The promise and problems of new Chiefs wideout Chad Williams

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 11: Wide receiver Chad Williams #10 of the Arizona Cardinals during the preseason NFL game against the Los Angeles Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium on August 11, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 11: Wide receiver Chad Williams #10 of the Arizona Cardinals during the preseason NFL game against the Los Angeles Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium on August 11, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Chad Williams is the newest addition to the Chiefs practice squad.

On Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs added a new face to the practice squad in Chad Williams, a wide receiver who played for the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts in previous stints since being drafted in 2017.

Given that the Chiefs released wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, a promising rookie free agent to whom the Chiefs gave a decent signing bonus, it’s worth asking why the Chiefs would give up on him so quickly—or what they might see in Williams instead. Let’s take a closer look at the problems and promise of Williams.

The promise

Williams landed in the NFL as the No. 98 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft—12 picks after the Chiefs grabbed Kareem Hunt out of Toledo. Williams was a small-school selection out of Grambling State—at the time, he was the first player drafted from the school in over a decade—with enough tools to entice scouts to do their homework.

As if the small-school leap wasn’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, Williams was also left out of the NFL Combine which made his pre-draft process a bit tougher to assess. His Pro Day time in the 40-yard dash was an impressive 4.37 seconds, which bolstered rumors of his top-end speed. Given that scouting reports were also praising his hands and his physical style (21 reps on the bench press would have been third at the Combine among WRs), there was a lot to like about Williams’ potential.

In terms of production, Williams had put up 1,337 yards (third in FCS in ’17) and 11 touchdowns on 90 catches in his final season at Grambling, helping to lead them to a SWAC title. That built upon an impressive junior campaign in which he hauled in 64 passes for 1,012 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Whether or not he was worthy of a third round pick at the time, it’s quite clear that Williams had very intriguing potential and would have been taken on Day 3 had the Cardinals not cleared him off the draft board at the bottom of Day 2.

The problems

There are very good reasons why some teams would have waited until Day 3—and maybe some teams would have avoided the prospect entirely—given Williams’ character flags. In May 2016, Williams was arrested along with two others after authorities investigated a parked SUV on LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge. Inside, LSU police found a glass jar of marijuana along with three guns, included an AK-47.

As if the gun/drugs issue wasn’t enough, Williams used his opportunity to show what he can do at the Senior Bowl—remember the small-school hurdle he had to overcome—to get into a fight. There are two sides to every story, but this is not a good look in front of scouts and pro coaches.

Yeah, that’s defensive back Rayshawn Jenkins from Miami (Fl.) coming to blows with Williams—a silly move for players literally applying for a job.

What’s even more disturbing, and what helps explain why the Cardinals ended up giving up earlier than expected on their third round pick—is that Williams still hadn’t turned a corner in terms of focus coming into his rookie season. Even after he was drafted and in training camp, head coach Bruce Arians knocked Williams for being so out of shape saying, “Until he gets in better condition he won’t have a role.”

From there, Williams’ statistical production goes from abysmal to middling in his two seasons in the desert. He caught 3 of 7 total targets in 6 games played his rookie season—special teams primarily—for a whopping 31 yards. The next season, he played in 10 games and saw a significant leap in targets with 46, but he caught only 17 (for a poor 37 percent catch rate) for 171 yards and 1 touchdown.

Williams wouldn’t make it another year in Arizona. With the regime change to Kliff Kingsbury in 2019, Williams was cut coming into the regular season and the Indianapolis Colts signed him to their practice squad instead. He lasted the full year in Indy and was promoted to the active roster near season’s end. Williams had a lone target in 1 game but remained with the Colts for most of 2020 until he was just released with an injury settlement in early September.

The present

Let’s be honest: if the Chiefs had a standard 10-man practice squad, we would not be talking about Chad Williams. Williams is also the fourth wideout on the squad—now up to 16 players—including Maurice Ffrench, Gehrig Dieter, and Jody Fortson. The latter was a preseason sensation and Dieter has earned time on the active roster before. Ffrench is the last man standing among this year’s rookie free agents—a testament to his ability.

At this point, it would make sense to project a bit that the Chiefs liked Williams in their pre-draft work in 2017 but weren’t ready to pull the trigger on the pick as early as the Cardinals. If so, perhaps Brett Veach wants to see if Williams has learned some things given his NFL experience. Is he hungry? Is he humbled? If so, can he channel his obvious physical gifts in a meaningful direction?

Despite the 4.37 speed (or whatever would have been clocked at the Combine), Williams’ strength, speed, and hands should make him a tough physical receiver if he can put it all together. However, he entered the league as a developmental prospect and that means a coaching staff is needed to do the work. In Arizona, Williams was miscast as a deep threat and then sat through a coaching carousel. Organizational instability was partly to blame here.

Then again, Williams was considered a reach in the third round in the first place. Perhaps the hurdles are too great for Williams, even now on his third NFL team. But the Chiefs saw enough in his free agent visit to clear some space for him on the practice squad. The journey begins there. If Chiefs fans hear more about Williams in future weeks and months, it will be because he’s overcome his own demons and the professional hurdles in front of him with a skill set that could make him a dangerous physical target.

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