Damien Williams has disappeared on the Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 13: Running back Damien Williams #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the first quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 13: Running back Damien Williams #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the first quarter at Arrowhead Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images) /

When the Kansas City Chiefs signed Damien Williams to an extension, they certainly didn’t picture the results of the first half of the 2019 season.

The disappearance of Damien Williams is easy to overlook.

A disappearance, by definition, is the absence of something, which means that unless you’re already looking for it, it’s going to be easy to miss. It also doesn’t help that the Kansas City Chiefs seem like they have 100 other dominant storylines surrounding the team as is—from the Super Bowl hopes to the injury of Patrick Mahomes to deadline trade rumors to the many others wounded (and so on).

However, if you’ve remembered Damien Williams enough to look for him during this first half of the Chiefs season, you’ve likely struggled hard to do so. For reasons that haven’t quite been explained well enough, Williams has gone missing—or at least the version of the running back who played so well down the stretch in 2018 that he earned a two-year extension from the powers that be.

To jog your memory, the Chiefs employed one of the NFL’s most excellent young running backs in Kareem Hunt as recently as last December. He was an exciting talent who was nearly impossible to bring down, including off the field too, as he’d dodged run-ins with authorities and claims of abuse from victims well enough to remain eligible to play in the league. During his first year, Hunt won the league’s rushing title (only the sixth such player to do so). In his second year, he was right there again and seemed destined for a second straight Pro Bowl.

In early December, the Chiefs released Hunt outright after learning the halfback had lied to the team on multiple occasions about his involvement in an offseason assault and altercation. Suddenly the Chiefs offense had a major void, the loss of a Pro Bowler on a team that was built to win shootouts.

Fortunately, there was someone unexpected waiting to take over. Rather than Spencer Ware or someone else getting the carries down the stretch, Williams was there to take over for Hunt as a lead back who could prove himself a solid two-way threat in the Chiefs offense. In the team’s final three games, Williams averaged 107 yards from scrimmage and put up 4 scores. In the postseason, he was even better. He rushed for 129 yards in the team’s win over the Indianapolis Colts and put up three touchdowns in the loss to the New England Patriots.

It wasn’t a surprise to see general manager Brett Veach reward Williams, who had joined the Chiefs on a one-year deal, with a two-year extension worth up to $5.1 million. This offseason, both Eric Bieniemy and Andy Reid were so committed to Williams that they named him the starting back in the middle of spring for no good reason.

Fast forward to late October and Williams has gone missing. Nothing this year has lived up to any of the hype or (recent) history. While some aspects of Williams’ lack of productivity is understandable, the complete disappearance has not been explained.

First the understandable:

1. LeSean McCoy – When Reid backed Williams as the starter, no one had any way of knowing that Shady would be made available by the Buffalo Bills shortly before the season would begin (or that the Chiefs would win the bidding for his services). The arrival of McCoy in Kansas City paid immediate dividends, but it also dipped into Williams’ playing time and reps on the field.

2. Injury – More important than even Shady’s arrival are the frustrating injuries suffered by Williams. Williams missed much of training camp for the Chiefs which allowed the buzz at running back to go to Darwin Thompson instead. From there, Williams suffered a knee injury which kept him out completely for Week 3 and Week 4.

But let’s look at some quick numbers. So far this year, Williams has rushed 41 times for 70 yards and 1 touchdown. He’s caught another 15 passes for 115 yards and another touchdown through the air. Basically, the numbers look bad any way you slice ’em. If you look at yards per carry, the total is 1.7. If it’s yards from scrimmage that interests you, he’s at 31 yards/game.

Let’s say this: if Damien Williams were to equal his rushing total with the Chiefs last season, he would need to average 20.6 yards/carry over the next 9 rushes to reach last year’s part-time total.

On Thursday, Williams rushed 9 times against the Denver Broncos for 7 yards. He also caught 2 passes for -1 yards. That’s 11 touches for 6 yards—pitiful production even in such a small sample size.

What has happened to Williams? Why has he disappeared? It stands to reason that perhaps the preseason and then in-season injuries haven’t healed at all. That’s the easiest guess considering that Williams just lacks the burst, the toughness, the vision that he displayed in short order last year.

If Williams is still injured, however, why would the Chiefs keep putting him out there? Darwin Thompson is waiting in the wings for any developmental reps he can get, yet he’s stalled as an inactive player waiting behind Williams.

Is Williams just getting the worst play calls when he’s up? Is he still injured? Was he never able to get into game shape since he missed some of the preseason? Is he simply not the player he exhibited down the stretch (and if not, how did that happen)? None of this quite makes sense.

Here’s hoping Williams can find his footing in the season’s second half much like he did for the Chiefs down the stretch last season. It’s clear from his 2018 form that he can be a major asset within this offense and now it’s up to both player and coaches to help him get there once again.

Next. How to win without Mahomes (Learning from the 2015 Chiefs). dark