Following a shocking trade that sent Buffalo Bills’ linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for superstar running back LeSean McCoy, it seemed far-fetched that a depth chart that also featured Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown would become even more crowded. However, when the Bills were on the clock in the fifth-round with the No. 155 overall pick, Doug Whaley pulled the trigger on another Florida State Seminole, selecting running back Karlos Williams, who had played the running back position for just two years, spending the prior two as a safety.
In those two seasons in the backfield, Williams gained 1,419 yards and 22 touchdowns on 241 carries (5.9 yards-per-carry), while adding another 328 yards and a score on 37 catches.
The former five-star safety recruit that stands 6’1” and weighs 230 pounds is a big, physical, downhill runner that plays with a defensive mentality. He isn’t afraid to take on a linebacker in the hole and will rarely run out of bounds, instead choosing to lower his shoulder and pick up an extra yard or two.
Williams played well in Buffalo’s first preseason contest against the Carolina Panthers, gaining 40 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. The 2.9 yards-per-carry average isn’t impressive on the surface, but he showed the physicality between the tackles and the speed that make the Bills think Williams could be a valuable asset.
Here, Williams is stopped for no gain, but his failure to stop moving his feet prevented what would’ve been a rush for a loss by many running backs.
This play illustrates the “defender” mentality that Williams showcases everytime he’s on the field, fighting through six would-be tacklers to pick up nine yards.
The Bills’ scouting department most certainly saw this aspect of Karlos’ game on tape, as it takes seven N.C. State defenders to bring him down, but only after he picked up 10 yards to move the chains.
He’s not just a bulldozer, as the above play attests to. Karlos receives the handoff, waits for his blocks to develop and uses his 4.48-speed (fastest of all RBs at 2015 NFL Combine) to pick up 10 yards. This speed and ability to shake arm tackles is put on display in the following rep against Idaho last season. He explodes through the gap, cuts back to make the first man miss in space before breaking eight tackles en route to a 47-yard gain.
Williams suffered a mysterious lower-body injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the preseason, but General Manager Doug Whaley and Head Coach Rex Ryan had seen enough of the 22-year old rookie to feel comfortable moving on from long-time fan-favorite, Fred Jackson, who’s been the captain and locker room leader of the last decade of miserable Bills’ football, and an unquestioned fan-favorite.
Running Backs coach Anthony Lynn had glowing words for Williams, telling ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak,
“Karlos was really ascending and he had kind of reached that No. 2 spot, in my opinion, at one point in training camp. And I just … it was a good competition, because Boobie was out [with a calf injury], so it was basically between Karlos and Bryce. And I thought Karlos kind of took control of that second spot for a little while there.
But I’ve been very pleased with his growth and his development. The guy only played running back [at Florida State] for a year-and-a-half, and he came in here and he really listened and took the coaching. He’s like a sponge. And I guess what I like about him is that he didn’t have any bad habits to break, so he just does what you tell him to do. And you kind of like that in a player, you know?”
Now, LeSean McCoy wasn’t given $40 million over five-years by the Bills to watch Karlos Williams from the sidelines, but considering that Greg Roman’s offense is built around the rushing attack, both will have their fair share of snaps.
Williams’ experience playing the physical safety position and serving on special teams during his time at Florida State gives him an opportunity to get on the field on kick/punt coverage units as he eases into his role as the No. 2 back behind McCoy.
He understands that nothing is given in the National Football League, explaining to The Buffalo News’ Ty Dunne that he needs to “earn” his keep.
“As far as getting carries in the backfield, I have to go earn them,” Williams said. “It’s not going to be given to me. I know I have a backfield full of good backs who have proven themselves to be good backs in the NFL. I’m going to have to go in there and earn carries.
Given the workload LeSean McCoy has shouldered over the past four seasons with the Eagles—1,281 total touches (1,099 carries, 182 receptions) an average of 320 per year– having a bigger back to spell him in various short-yardage situations could help prolong his career.
Don’t get it twisted, Shady McCoy is the superstar of the operation, but Karlos Williams has the physical traits as well as the talent to be the “Thunder” to McCoy’s “Lightning.”