Damien Williams has put up much better overall numbers than most of us realize.
History is likely to remember Damien Williams as a bit of a transition.
When the Kansas City Chiefs first signed Damien Williams to provide some competition and depth at running back, he was just one of multiple back with a similar name on the roster. In fact, he was more known for being another “D. Williams” than any sort of productivity, a one-year signing for a mere $1.2 million not even guaranteed a roster spot by the time the regular season rolled around.
That was the spring of 2018, the second season of Kareem Hunt‘s career that was supposed to be the next great Chiefs back—another name in the team’s lineage like Abner and Christian, Priest and Larry, Jamaal and Kareem. By season’s end, Williams would take over the starter’s reps and put on a clinic as if he was the chosen one all along.
Fast forward two years and Williams is still around, but he’s also, once again, being pushed aside for the—wait for it—next great Chiefs back. NFL analysts have fawned over the fit of rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Andy Reid‘s offense with the Chiefs. Fans are excited to see the offense thrive with another exciting young running back. The Chiefs themselves invested their only first-round pick in a few years to make it happen.
Given the investment, Edwards-Helaire is going to be the primary option going forward at running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. He might receive an on-ramp for a year, but the lead role is his for the taking sooner or later.
Again, Williams will likely be remembered as a transition. However, he deserves far more credit than he’s likely to be given by the history books (not that any of us really have a Chiefs-related history book, but it’s nice to picture it).
Before arriving with the Chiefs, Williams had put up four consecutive seasons of subpar production with a losing team, the Miami Dolphins. He was a part-time back with part-time back stats. He was the SoFla version of Jackie Battle or Charcandrick West. Those players are helpful in their roles, but when they’re gone, they’re gone. I’m guessing few people have a Shaun Draughn tattoo.
To be specific, Williams never once—never—averaged even 4.0 yards/carry for the Dolphins in four seasons. Even in a part time role, he was eking out an average of 3.6 yards for every carry. And those weren’t end zone yardage, which would explain the short gains. In fact, Williams only scored a rushing touchdown in one of four full seasons in Miami—as a running back. In total, Williams would put together 1,210 yards from scrimmage over four seasons in Miami. He’d leave after his rookie deal was up.
The Chiefs, however, saw something in the misused back that drew Brett Veach to his cause. With a new head coach, Veach believed Williams might add a spark behind Kareem Hunt as a scatback type who could compete for reps as a veteran free agent. What no one realized is how great that spark would be and how much the team would come to rely on it.
Given the postseason glory experienced by the team during Williams’ tenure, most of you are likely already well-versed in his postseason heroics. However, the production extends into the regular season as well. In fact, it leads you to wonder what might have been in store for the Chiefs draft if Williams could have exhibited his skill set without dealing with lingering injuries.
Including the regular and postseason, Williams has received double-digit carries from the Chiefs in 13 total games over two years. In that time, he’s put up the following stats: 187 carries, 975 rushing yards, and 13 rushing touchdowns to go with 55 catches, 435 receiving yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns. That’s 5.2 yards per carry and 19 scores in three games less than a full season. Note: he put up much of these stats on the biggest stage possible.
No one would argue that Damien Williams is comparable to Priest Holmes, but it also needs to be said that those numbers are Priest-esque. And herein lies the primary issue in how we will remember Damien Williams.
What’s also true about Damien Williams is that the very team who has watched him so closely, the very team that received all of this production, was the same team who invested a first round pick in another running back. It’s also true that the Chiefs were able to re-sign Williams to a two-year contract extension for mid-level money. If the league had turned their heads after his first jaw-dropping postseason run, the Chiefs would have found much stiffer competition for his services from other franchises.
It’s also true that Williams averaged 2.1 yards/carry through the first half of last season. That’s a historically poor run of production for a full half season. Other backs have found themselves unemployed for single game performances of that ilk. Williams was dealing with a knee injury during that span, which was obviously to blame, but we also don’t want to pretend that Williams has shown he can handle the lead back role.
Somehow Williams is a back who has yet to prove he can handle being the featured back for a full year in six NFL seasons. He’s also a player who has clearly been replaced in the long-term scheme of the very team he’s starred for in each of the last two postseasons. That said, his production when it matters most speaks for itself, including a performance that merited an MVP award on the game’s biggest stage.
Damien Williams might not have been the next great Chiefs back during his tenure, but he was a hero when it mattered most. He’s also got another season ahead in which he can write his story. Here’s hoping Chiefs history finds a rightful place for him between immortalization and ignorance.