The emergence of Damien Williams on the Kansas City Chiefs offense brings up some intriguing questions as any sort of offseason plan comes into view.
It was a two touchdown performance against the Baltimore Ravens that first turned heads. In Week 15, it was the 123 yards from scrimmage and another two touchdowns. The following week, it was 103 rushing yards on only 10 attempts with another rushing score.
Within a three-game span, Damien Williams has put up numbers that rival the best years of his four-game career and he’s become an important offensive piece for a Kansas City Chiefs team ailing in numerous ways. In the present, it’s a welcome gift and an impressive offensive showing. For the sake of the future, Williams’ emergence brings up some interesting questions.
This last offseason, Williams was a low-key free agent signing—one of three running backs with the same surname brought in to compete with holdovers like Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West for the few spots behind Kareem Hunt. Brett Veach signed him to a 1-year, $1.2 million deal that came with very little guaranteed money, and coming into the preseason, it wasn’t certain how things would shake out.
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When Williams ousted West for the scatback role on offense, he still was hardly used until injuries made it absolutely necessary. Through the first 11 games of the year, Williams had 3 rushes and 3 catches, and it would have been easy to project him as a one-year addition for the Chiefs. Heading into Week 17, he’s now the team’s best returning back for 2019 thanks to a nice new two-year extension.
As important as Williams has become for an injury-laden team that was forced to release a Pro Bowl starter, it’s important to ask one primary question: how real is Williams’ production? In short, is Williams a blooming breakout candidate or is he a product of Andy Reid’s offensive system?
Before this season, in four years with the Miami Dolphins, Williams has never even averaged 4.0 yards/carry in a single season, with a career average of 3.6 yards/carry entering into the 2018 season. With the Chiefs, Williams is averaging an impressive 5.1 yards/carry.
Even with just four real games of production, Williams has already eclipsed his previous career high of yards from scrimmage by 52 yards (416). Kareem Hunt had 150 more yards from scrimmage in his rookie campaign than Williams has within nearly five full years.
All of these statistical comps aren’t intended to be a downer about Williams’ emergence. Even the eye test says that Williams has some real offensive potential. He’s proven himself to be adept at stretching plays for more yards with excellent balance as he tiptoes along the sidelines. Other times, he’s rushed with such surprising power that it’s taken everyone by surprise. He’s also caught 23 of 24 targets and proven himself to be a very reliable pass catcher out of the backfield.
Here’s the question, then: did the Chiefs do well to sign Williams through 2020? Or could any number of similar players perform the same in the offensive schemes designed by Andy Reid’s staff?
Looking at previous years, it looks like Williams is performing better—albeit in a very small sample size—than his predecessors with the Chiefs. West never averaged more than 4.0 yards/carry in his career with the Chiefs occupying the same scatback role on offense. Before that, Knile Davis held the role as a running back and returner with an anemic 3.3 yards/carry.
Does this mean Williams is that much more productive? Again, this is one-dimensional box score analysis relying on a recent three-game burst from Williams. But the eye test also says he’s bringing a real spark to the mix that has helped keep the Chiefs moving the chains through what has proven to be a difficult stretch in the schedule.
Veach clearly is a believer in what Williams brings to the table. Chiefs fans will hope for the same—that these last three games are simply evidence of what he can bring over the long-term.