By Amol Nadkarni
The Bills are loaded at running back with the likes of LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and Mike Gillislee. However, that didn’t stop GM Doug Whaley from drafting Arkansas RB Jonathan Williams in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Whaley has consistently gone with the strategy of drafting the best player available on the board and even though he had a plethora of talented backs on his roster, he opted to select Williams, believing he could be an immediate contributor and perhaps even more.
In 2014 at the University of Arkansas, Williams put up impressive numbers, rushing for 1,190 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. He did all this despite sharing carries with junior RB Alex Collins. Entering the 2015 season, it looked like Williams would be the feature back in the Razorbacks offense but he underwent left foot surgery and was forced to miss the entire season. Instead of going back to school for the 2016 season, Williams decided to take his chances and enter the draft.
Williams is athletically and thickly built, so he should not have any major issues returning from his foot injury. He can best be described as a “slasher” and has outstanding lateral movement, forcing defenders to often miss (forced 44 missed tackles in 2014). His loose hips and quick feet enable him to have a crafty running style and he can act and react immediately as he runs. Williams’ instincts for the position are also superb, as he has a great feel for where holes will open up and more often than not will find the best running lanes. He is also a patient runner and sets up his blocks before he makes his move, thus putting himself in a position to gain as many yards as possible on any given play. Also, he has shown good balance through contact and is more physical than your average “slasher” back. Williams has demonstrated characteristics of being a three-down back, as he is good in short yardage situations and has soft hands for catching the ball out of the backfield. Maybe most importantly, he has shown a willingness to serve in pass protection, which is an underrated trait for running backs in the NFL.
When he was drafted by the Bills with the 156th overall pick, he was still considered an afterthought by Bills fans. At best he would be fighting for the third spot on the depth chart with Gillislee. However, after recent reports surfaced that Karlos Williams showed up to minicamp overweight, rumors started circulating that he might fall from the number two spot on the depth chart. This gives Jonathan Williams the opportunity to take hold of the running back spot after McCoy and in Buffalo’s run heavy offense, the sky might be the limit for the rookie out of Arkansas. After all, he produced great numbers sharing the load at Arkansas, so who is to say he can’t do it in Buffalo. Keep an eye on Williams.