Well, it's been a long time coming, both for LSU to get a new commitment and for Darrel Williams to get a full running back offer to his dream school. The Marrero native and former Arizona State commit, recently de-committed the Sun Devils prompting speculation that a flip to LSU was soon forthcoming. LSU came through with an offer in early November, but at the time, it was believed to be as an "athlete" with a push toward a future on the defensive side. Williams has long been keen on playing running back at the second level, and with offers from Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida and others to do so, it's hard to see why he wouldn't stick to his guns.
Late Sunday, news broke that long-time commitment, Sione Palelei, flipped his commitment to Oklahoma State. As of yesterday, the coaches went to visit the Palelei's, presumably to try and flip back Sione, so either they felt he was sold on becoming a Poke OR viewed Williams as a kid who deserved an offer regardless of Palelei's decision. It's expected that current LSU backs Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill may all try their hand in the NFL next season, which would leave LSU woefully thin at the running back position, something we haven't seen since Ridley served as lead-dog in 2010. As such, the need for depth is evident. If Magee goes down, or heaven forbid, Leonard Fournette elects to go elsewhere, comes to Baton Rouge disappoints and/or gets injured, someone has to play running back and Williams can be that guy.
That said, and this is meant with no disrespect to Williams, Palelei, assuming he's healthy, is the superior prospect from my view. But... the injury makes things tricky. All reports suggest Palelei's recovery from an ACL and MCL tear that cut his season short, is going well. Perhaps the LSU staff is anticipating the defections and knows Williams is a back that can be ready to play in 2014, while Palelei's timetable may be even a year off? Williams looks like the typical mold of an LSU running back under Miles, while Palelei seems to be a more natural fit in the type of things Oklahoma State is trying to do.
Palelei is no munchkin, though (5'9", 199 pounds), and looks much in the mold of Ray Rice, a back who experienced tremendous success under Cam Cameron's watch. So I'm not sure scheme fit gives a total explanation. This may just honestly be a case where Oklahoma State was able to sell Palelei on being the no. 1 back on their board, a position LSU quite obviously cannot also spell out.
So, what of Williams, the prospect? His senior campaign was a big one, as he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 27 TDs. On Sunday, I tweeted out the following:
Looks like LSU may have traded a sport-utility truck for a cement mixer on the recruiting trail.— Paul Crewe-it Cake (@ATVS_PaulCrewe) December 9, 2013
My not-so-tight analogy was in reference to Palelei, a smaller, more all-purpose type back, flipping and Darrel Williams, a 6'0", 220 lb. cement mixer, taking his spot. What's immediately evident is that Williams sports college-ready size. He's a big, broad-shouldered kid, with a narrow waist and a thick lower half. As a point of reference, he's probably about as heavy as Alfred Blue was as a Junior, despite being a couple of inches shorter. I think his frame could support an additional 10-15 pounds of good muscle without really lugging his body down.
But size isn't everything. What's Williams show on the field? Let's take to the tape:
You will see immediately that John Ehret coach Corey Lambert deployed Williams in a few different ways. He takes his first carry as a single back in a Shotgun set. On the next play, at :16, he's playing WIldcat QB. At 1:55 he lines up as the inside man in a bunch formation out wide. I think the versatility is essential in the Cam Cameron offense. He likes his backs to be pass catchers and mutli-use tools, rather than pure downhill runners. Williams shows a bit of that, though we don't really have a feel for his game as a receiver.
From the tape, I don't think he's much of a burner. He's by no means slow, but he's not a guy that will house one from 80 yards out. What I do like, though, is that he seems to get to top-end speed relatively quickly, and he reminds me a bit of Stevan Ridley in that regard. Ridley probably didn't win many 40-yard dashes in his LSU days, but his burst through the hole made him a more than competent back.
Williams does seem to race for daylight quite a bit, something he'll quickly learn won't transfer to the next level, but once he gets going downhill, he's a load to bring down. Rarely, rarely does first contact bring him down, and you'll see, multiple times, him dragging defenders for several yards before going down. He's certainly not shy to make contact, as the run starting at :46 illustrates. He's really at his best when he makes one cut and gets going down hill. He looks to be a bit indecisive at times, often trying to dance his way to backside running lanes in hopes of a big play. Again, it's a strategy that works well in high school, but only translates to the most elite of talents at the next level.
Overall, I think Williams has the makings of a solid SEC back. He reminds me a bit of former Tennessee running back Tauren Poole, who was similarly thickly built. But he might remind you folks of this guy. But the best part of his story is that he really worked to earn his LSU offer. This is not to say that other, more hyped players haven't, just that he was placed in the unique position of not having an offer heading into and throughout his senior year, but he kept grinding and earned one. Those are often the type of guys that add character to a program, because he gets it.