Oklahoma has always been able to find talented running backs. The past few have been extremely athletic with speed and the ability to make defenses cover them all over the field. Their latest, Damien Williams, was recruited out of the JUCO ranks at Arizona Western and has been a tremendous fit in the Sooners system. Williams was able to come in and make an instant impact his first year with the Sooners both as a runner and a receiving threat, carrying the ball 176 times for 946 yards as well as catching 34 passes for 320 yards and 12 total touchdowns.
Williams is a terrific athlete with speed and acceleration that excels in space, but his strength tends to be inconsistent. He has shown he can be a threat out of the backfield both as a runner and a natural receiving ability that he should further work to improve and refine going forward. If he can add strength and use it more consistently as well as do more in terms of blocking, he can be a more complete back and really improve his stock during his senior year. Coming into the season, he looks like a day three pick that can be a fantastic rotational back that is a great change of pace that teams want. Williams still appears to have potential to get better and could evolve into an all-around threat and a feature back at the next level, potentially getting into the day two range of the draft.
Vitals & Build
Williams is listed at 5’11” 211lbs with terrific acceleration, fluidity and speed with a great frame for the NFL. He excels in space with good vision and body control. Williams seems to have good strength, which will likely only improve as a senior but it shows up inconsistently. Already an incredible athlete, Williams will likely get even better this coming year, but much of his physical potential comes in maximizing what he already has, particularly when it comes to strength and power as it is the last element he needs to add to his game to be a complete threat.
Williams is a tremendous speed threat with the build of a traditional full service back. He is clearly at his most comfortable when he can use his explosiveness and speed to get out in space and try to get in a foot race, because he has the speed to win them. Williams has good vision and is able to work between the tackles or stretch plays and take advantage of lanes to make big plays as a runner. With jump cuts and agility, he is able to be shifty and work to get into a running lane and then explode up the field.
He can make guys miss and at times, it seems like he falls in love with that a little too much. The reason is because he is inconsistent with his strength. Williams has more strength than he shows and at times, shows just what he is capable of doing. There are times when he really wants to send a message or gets angry and wants to prove a point where he is extremely powerful and difficult to take down by a bevy of tacklers, let alone one. Williams clearly has the strength to overpower opponents and consistently falls forward.
The inconsistency comes in two places. There are times when Williams is working between the tackles that he basically looks for a place to go down and is basically just leaning into an opponent as he does it. This is not a bad move from a self-preservation standpoint as well as the fact there are times when there are no more yards to gain, so it is a prudent move. Too often, it seems like he goes to this when there could be more yards or he has the power to overcome the opponent and keep driving. If he was a small back without much strength, this would make far more sense. However, it looks bizarre when he will then turn around and power and drag three or four opponents into the end zone.
The other part of this is there are times when Williams will stop driving his legs on contact. He falls forward, but continuing his leg drive would have potentially broken the tackle and continued the run. This is not limited to between the tackles and there are times when this happens in the open field with only one opponent in front of him and the lack of this drive is a tackle and a missed opportunity. This is inconsistent as there are times when he will drive his legs and keep working through contact and make an opponent miss or push a pile for extra yardage.
Williams has great speed, acceleration and athleticism and those are special qualities but if he fully embraces what he can do with his strength and power, he can take his game to another level. It stands to reason that he will come in bigger and stronger this year but he was by no means weak as a junior, so it will come down to a mindset and embracing that part of his game and then maintain the proper balance. If he can use his power more consistently, opponents will have to try to account for his strength which may actually open up more opportunities for him to use his strength, making him that much more unpredictable as a threat.
Route Running & Technique
Oklahoma is aggressive with the routes they have their backs run, so Williams has experience running a diverse tree from the running back position. He is not simply used on screens and dump off type passes, but they use him basically as a wide receiver out of the backfield. They are not afraid to have him attack the secondary and work down the field. The Sooners do not ask him to run terribly precise routes and attack areas rather than working specific paths.
Much of his route running could depend on where he ends up playing as he could be asked to run precise routes or play a similar role as he has for Oklahoma. He appears to have the ability to be precise and run great routes, but just need to be asked to do it and then work on it.
When he uses his hands, Williams seems to be a natural in catching the football. He just needs to do that more often as there are times when he will let the ball get into his body. Williams is comfortable and catches the ball as if it were an extension of the running game and does not look out of place when he catches the ball down the field.
Run After Catch
Again, when Williams catches the ball with his hands, he is impressive and transitions from pass catcher to running after the catch smoothly. He is able to immediately turn into a runner and look to make opponents miss as if he were handed the ball. The times he catches the ball with his body, that transition is much slower and clunkier and it gives the defense the chance to get in position to make the play.
From screens to swing passes to going down the field, Williams has the ability to really be a great threat catching the ball and making plays. Because of the way Oklahoma runs their offense, they force opponents to cover a ton of ground. As a result, Williams can catch passes with relatively few defenders in front of him and is a huge threat to score because of his ability in space.
Williams is a decent blocker, but he has room to continue improving. The times he is asked to do it, he will find a hole and get in the way and absorb a hit. He can still work to deliver a punch more and show more power and work to excel as a blocker rather than just do it because he is forced to do it. Williams is certainly athletic enough to get out and block opponents on the edge but is not really asked to it often for the Sooners. He is usually blocking right in front of the quarterback to counter inside pressure or going out for a pass.
Based on what he has done to this point, Williams can fit in any system as a speed threat out of the backfield whether it be handing him the ball or throwing it to him, but he does have a particularly good fit in a spread out system like he is in with Oklahoma. There are a few teams like the Rams, Patriots, and Saints that have this type of offense that is looking to force defenses to cover all areas of the field.
Nevertheless, Williams is an intriguing option for anyone as he would be a tremendous complementary back and all around weapon. If a team has more of a workhorse or power back, Williams can come in and really change up the offensive look with his speed and versatility. The entire dynamic of the offense can be changed when Williams goes in the game and allow a team to play more of a basketball on grass type of offense.
Williams certainly has the potential to be a featured back but in an NFL that is embracing the idea of a stable of talented backs, Williams has the tools to be a terrific addition and contributor in that scenario.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. LA-Monroe|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. West Virginia|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Tulsa|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at Notre Dame|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. TCU|
|Sat, Oct. 12||vs. Texas|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Kansas|
|Sat, Oct. 26||vs. Texas Tech|
|Thu, Nov. 7||at Baylor|
|Sat, Nov. 16||vs. Iowa State|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Kansas State|
|Sat, Dec. 7||at Oklahoma State|
Williams has a three game stretch in the middle of the season that will be a good opportunity for him to show how effective he can be. After being thoroughly embarrassed in Norman, Oklahoma plays Notre Dame in South Bend. Part of the reason the Irish were able to make it such a one sided affair was their ability to contain Williams, who never really made an impact carrying the ball with only 29 yards but did have 38 yards receiving. This will be a big game for the Sooners as well as Williams to make a statement. The following week, Oklahoma hosts TCU, which has earned a reputation as the best defense in the Big XII. Williams was a huge reason the Sooners won the game last year with 154 total yards and two touchdowns. They will need another big performance from Williams to have the same success this year. Finally, the Red River Rivalry against Texas is obviously a big rivalry and a showcase game for the talent on each roster. In many ways, this was Williams’ coming out part last year as he had his biggest game of the year and was a catalyst in a 6 touchdown drubbing of the Longhorns.
In so many ways, Williams is incredibly similar to Reggie Bush, now of the Detroit Lions. Williams is not quite as electric as an athlete and has not returned kicks to this point in his career, but in terms of their athleticism, size, and underutilized strength, they are incredibly similar. Like with Williams, Bush is extremely strong and there have been flashes throughout his career of just how much power he can generate but he has never embraced that part of his game and opted to use his speed and athleticism. He has been a terrific weapon and threat but never been the complete threat he could have been coming out of USC. Williams, like Bush, can be a good runner out of the backfield and a weapon as a receiver while always being a threat to create a big play and score for a team.
There is so much to like about Williams already is and what he can be. As good as he is athletically, there is still more growth he can have as a player. His speed and athleticism are impressive, but there is another level he can take his game if he embraces his strength and power. Williams offers tremendous versatility as a receiving threat and how dangerous he can be on the edge. Still, Williams looks like an early day three pick but if he fully realizes what he can be, he could be a player that moves up in the draft and becomes a second day pick as well as someone who can come into the NFL as an early contributor. The other area that could help improve Williams’ draft stock is if he adds the ability to be a viable returner to the mix, especially on punts.