It’s fair to say that the Buffalo Bills’ front office shocked most of its fambase when Karlos Williams, the versatile running back out of Florida State was announced as the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. One year after Doug Whaley traded away a 4th round selection for backup Bryce Brown and over one month removed from the McCoy-Alonso trade, Buffalo adds another running back?
Admittedly, that was the first thought that came to mind. It’s not that I don’t like the player, but Buffalo already “drafted” its running back in Brown this year, remember? Plus, the team is currently four-deep at the position and all of the guys can play. Regardless, Williams is the newest running back at One Bills Drive and he offers much more than initially meets the eye.
A big running back that has great straight line speed and a nose for the end zone, Williams’ rushed for pay dirt 22 times in 26 games during his junior and senior seasons. Because he was a five-star recruit as the second-ranked safety in the nation coming out of high school, Karlos played primarily on defense his first two years in Tallahassee before making the change to offense.
The switch to running the ball in 2013 was seamless in part thanks to his athleticism and physicality. In fact, it started off so well that Williams actually was being touted as a potential All-American and Walter Camp Award candidate heading into the 2014 season. After some off-the field issues and moving to more of an in-between-the tackles role on offense, Williams’ stock plummeted more than any other running back on draft weekend.
While he’s not going to make a lot of people miss in the open field, the kid can clearly play after averaging nearly six yards per carry in the vaunted ACC. Factor in his size, explosiveness and defensive/special teams experience and Karlos Williams should fit right in with the Bills. Let’s take a closer look at his measurables and some ways the talented rookie will contribute this season and beyond.
6’1”, 230 pounds
4.48s 40-yard dash
33.5 inch vertical jump
1,416 rushing yards & 22 td’s on 241 carries (2011 & 2012)
Points to Ponder
1. Buffalo’s veteran running back Fred Jackson is entering the final season of a two-year deal. While the 34-year old still plays at a high-level and is the best pass-blocking back on the team, old-man time may catch up with him by 2016. I’m not saying FJax definitely won’t be a part of the team beyond this upcoming season, but you’ve got to think the Bills’ will want to feature a younger set of legs that compliments McCoy in the near future. Could Williams be groomed for that role?
2. When Buffalo used a mid-round pick on Karlos, many immediately labeled running back Bryce Brown as the odd man out in the backfield. I can’t say that I blame them, and as miffed as I am about cutting a player one year after trading a 4th-round pick away to retain his services; it could end up being the right move.
Brown has shown potential in limited opportunities, but needs to improve his pass protection and already seems to be in Rex Ryan’s dog house. Also going against his favor, besides LeSean McCoy and FJax, the other two backs contribute in multiple facets of the game. Anthony Dixon is a special team’s demon and a bruising runner while Williams offers a similar skill set with good field vision, more speed and an ideal physical build for the offense. There’s no doubt Bryce is a talented, but he’s more of a one-dimensional player, making his roster spot on this team shaky.
3. As I mentioned, the new offensive scheme under coordinator Greg Roman should fit William’s skill set well. He’s a fast north and south runner and is a big back at 6’1” and 230 pounds, suggesting that at the very least he can turn into a decent pass-blocker. If the offensive line improves and gains some continuity, Karlos could thrive in the power running game and provide that thunder for the lightning that is McCoy.
Williams is also a more than able pass-catcher out of the backfield, hauling in 37 receptions for 329 yards and one touchdown in two seasons. Roman loves to utilize his versatile running backs and coincidentally, coached a guy named Toby Gerhart at Stanford that is almost identical in size and speed to Buffalo’s newest back. That was obviously in college, but you can’t deny the success Roman and a similar player achieved, making the fifth-round picks future prospects in this offense even more interesting.
4. The versatility of Williams is another big reason to be excited about his potential. He returned 29 kicks in his college career and also played two years at safety. With a stacked depth chart at running back and a learning curve ahead, the rookie figures to play on special teams right away with any other contributions a bonus.
Sooner or later though, Rex will probably want to see what the second-fastest running back in 2015’s NFL draft and a guy who was pegged as an All-American candidate heading into his senior season can do. With the ability to switch from offense to defense without a hitch halfway through his college career, it seems certain that Williams will find a niche and a spot on the Bills’ final 53-man roster.
If there’s one thing we know about the NFL, it’s that anything can happen. Bryce Brown could somehow rip off a huge 2015 season or FJax could continue to channel the fountain of youth and be too good to retire, a development that’d bury the former Florida-State star deeper on the offensive depth chart.
Even so, if you were taken off guard by the Bills’ decision to select him, a closer looks reveals that there’s a lot to like about the 155th overall pick in this year’s draft. Karlos Williams is a talented gamer that brings great value for his position and some upside for the future. His development under this coaching staff should be fun to watch and could end up paying big dividends down the road.