You may have heard that LSU signed a pretty special running back in this class. Yes, Fournette's that rare type of talent that draws attention from even the most casual of recruiting followers, as detailed by one of our readers who lives up in Badger country.
Yet, there's another back in this class with outstanding potential in his own right. If we've come to expect anything from our offense under Les Miles it's that each year will feature a healthy stable of running backs. Even in seasons when one back distinguishes himself above the others, such as Jeremy Hill in 2013, Stevan Ridley in 2010 and Charles Scott in 2008, or Jacob Hester in 2007, the other backs are still heavily featured, often carrying the ball at key moments. This makes Darrel Williams an incredibly important signing both in the short and long term.
As it stands, LSU returns only two backs with any meaningful experience: Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Beyond those two, LSU will rely on true freshmen Leonard Fournette and... Darrel Williams.
Is Williams up to the task? What type of player should we expect him to be? Let's take a look.
In the year of Fournette, LSU found itself walking a particularly tricky line when it comes to recruiting running backs. They strategically decided not to recruit a running back in the 2013 signing class, pushing all their chips in on Fournette. They threw a handful of offers out to other backs, along with Fournette, but truly only pursued Sione Palelei.
Palelei committed to LSU on July 17th, looking like the perfect complement to Fournette (who wouldn't declare until the AA game in January). In October, Palelei tore his ACL, cutting his season short. A week later he unofficially visited LSU and all seemed well. Two months later he de-committed, after officially visiting Oklahoma State. The news came as a bit of a shock.
In that same time span, LSU's interest in Darrel Williams began to rise. Williams, an Arizona State commit since the summer, generated serious interest across the nation, garnering offers from Auburn, Nebraska, Georgia, Tennessee and Wisconsin. In November the Tigers came calling with an offer. At the time, we debated what his offer meant. Remember, Palelei was still committed, so many speculated the offer was the more general "athlete" variety, with the coaches pushing him toward defense. Yet, Williams insisted on playing RB. We found later that Frank Wilson challenged Williams to prove he could play running back. He finished with 2,201 yards and 30 TDs, the best season by a RB in his school's history. He earned District 8-5A Offensive Player of the Year honors, and a spot on the 5A All-State team.
In early December, Wilson visited Williams. Two days later he de-committed from Arizona State. Just five days after that, Williams pledged to LSU, shortly after Palelei flipped to Oklahoma State. For LSU, the trade made sense. Palelei's injury likely meant a RS, or, at best, a late season contributor. The staff wisely realized that they'd likely only return two backs in 2014 and thus spied a need for ready-to-play depth. Enter: Darrel Williams.
For Williams' part, the LSU offer was long awaited. Williams did eventually take a trip to Tennessee, but obviously wound up sticking to his pledge. You can read a bit more about him in the commitment piece I wrote here.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Williams rates as a .9027 on the Composite, so he's no slouch himself.
Tale of the Tape
Weight: 227 pounds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.18
Vertical Jump: 28.4 inches
Power Throw: 32.5 feet
Athletically, he's not posting numbers that will blow the doors off the joint, at this time. I'd say the 4.69 is pretty close to accurate, based on his tape. Just eye-balling him, he's naturally big but doesn't look overly muscular at this point. That could mean he's yet to have extensive and quality dedication to weight training, which means there's likely some untapped athletic potential there.
Based on measurements alone, Williams looks like your big, downhill bruising back. Yet, the tape shows there may be more there than meets the eye. Let's take to the tape:
Strengths: Size, Feet, Versatility, Physicality
Weaknesses: Running Tendencies, Lack of Breakaway Speed
Size/Strength: Build wise, Williams reminds me a lot of Spencer Ware. He may be a tad bit larger, but he's compactly built with an extremely thick lower half. This stands out on tape. Like I mentioned above, he's not yet a brawny, muscular guy, so there's reason to believe he could still add some good bulk, which would make him an even more difficult target to tackle. At :31 seconds he runs through a couple of arm tackles, dragging a would be tackler an extra five yards. That's just one example, but play after play he runs through arm tackles. 4:20 is another prime example. The run at 6:19 might be the most impressive on the entire tape.
Feet: More than anything about Williams, I love his footwork. For a big man, he's exceptionally nimble and possesses superb balance. He uses his quick feet to break open big plays when he looks to be dead to rights. Watch the run at :19 seconds. He uses a stiff arm and quick stutter step to the outside to get the edge and score. Watch the run at 1:59, which quickly goes awry. Williams plants and cuts back across the field, then makes a couple of tacklers miss by staying light on his feet.
Versatility: You don't see it quite as readily in the tape linked above, but in this tape, we see Williams moving all over the formation, utilized in a variety of ways. Williams is flexed out as a WR, used to dot the I, in a single back formation, as a wildcat QB. In the tape above, we see this versatility mostly on the defensive end. The first play of the clip the flex him into the slot and he runs a wheel and catches a TD pass. At 2:46 he's a deep safety. At 1:31 he lines up over the slot WR and plays a physical press. At 1:40 they use him in the screen game.
Physicality: Watch the play at 2:46 again. It does not end well for the ball carrier. Williams can hit a little, huh? Watch him block on the play at 1:18. The guy doesn't mind contact, is what I'm saying.
Running Tendencies: The run at :30 seconds is one of the best examples I can find. Williams tends to like to break runs outside and try to get the sideline. In HS, this is something he can get away with against athletes that can't match his size/speed. At the next level, it will prove more difficult. As documented, Williams doesn't feature great speed, and while his short-area quickness stands out, he's not going to beat people to the edge in college.
Lack of Breakaway Speed: The screen play at 1:40 is a good snap shot of his speed. A back with elite top-end speed would burst away from the pack and take that one to the house. Williams gets caught from behind. Williams is not a guy I see running away from defenders or taking one to the house from 80 yards out. His speed is sufficient but not awe-inspiring.
There's not a ton of holes in Williams' game, something which makes him all the more valuable as an early contributor. That he was moved all over the formations on offense suggests to me that he's a bright football mind that can easily absorb a playbook. Miles seems to enjoy the idea of a multiple playbook, and with a QB battle between two guys that can each run, I suspect that won't change any time soon. Having a back that's already accommodated to being moved around and used differently will ease the transition. His coach spoke to his football IQ:
"Darrel is all about hard work,’’ Lambert said. "His football IQ is 100. He called all of our plays. We did everything no huddle, up tempo. He made all of the calls. He made all of the pass protection calls and he made all of the signal calls. From the tailback spot he lined it up. "His football IQ is tremendous and LSU will find that out with him, once they get him on the (black) board, he’s awesome as far as his IQ."
I'm considerably high on his potential. In his commitment piece I compared him to Tauren Poole, a guy that posted a 1,000-yard rushing season in the SEC. Upon revisiting his tape, I think that's on the low end of what we can expect of him. Williams looks an awful lot like Eddie Lacy, a similarly big, bruising tailback from Louisiana that lacked that breakaway dimension. Lacy excelled both by sheer force of will but also with a set of exceptionally quick feet that allowed him to dance away from defenders on a regular basis.
The question about Williams is one of opportunity. How many touches can he find next to Leonard Fournette? What will his role in the offense be, even as early as this year? In 2014, he'll likely be the 4th back in the rotation. By 2015, he stands a good chance to be the second. How he capitalizes on that opportunity will tell a lot about his career.
What I see in Williams is a vintage tailback with NFL upside. He's not the most athletically gifted back we've recruited, but I'm in love with his toughness, his versatility and his seeming love of contact.
Fournette may be the toast of the 2014 signing class, but Williams is a fantastic back in his own right. Expect good things.
High End: Starter potential with All-SEC upside.
Low End: Strong contributor in a rotation and exceptional special teamer. Something like Richard Murphy meets Spencer Ware.
Realistic: My only question with Williams is seeing the road to his playing time. Stacked up with Fournette and with very little opportunity to be redshirted due to depth, the two will be stride for stride in eligibility. That said, if Fournette's as good as we all believe, Williams could be a 4th year Senior starter, taking the ball and literally running with it. This guy's good, don't forget him.