Darrel Williams has rewarded KC Chiefs for early belief in him

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 17: Darrel Williams #31 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs through an opening in the second quarter between Vincent Taylor #96 of the Cleveland Browns and Jordan Elliott #90 of the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium on January 17, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 17: Darrel Williams #31 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs through an opening in the second quarter between Vincent Taylor #96 of the Cleveland Browns and Jordan Elliott #90 of the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium on January 17, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

Darrel Williams has come a long, long way to get to where he’s at—and he’s still yet to hit unrestricted free agency in the NFL.

TheK.C. Chiefs running back is coming into another season ready to share significant reps out of the backfield of the most explosive offense in football. Perhaps for the first time, Williams isn’t so nervously looking over his shoulder wondering about the level of competition. That’s because the Chiefs coaching staff has demonstrated a remarkable amount of trust in Williams at the very point that it matters most.

Last postseason, the Chiefs could have turned to Le’Veon Bell waiting in the wings when first-round choice Clyde Edwards-Helaire was healing up from hip and ankle injuries suffered late in the regular season. Instead, in these games that meant the most, Chiefs Kingdom was surprised to see how much Williams was featured as a lead back. Bell wasn’t even utilized in tandem with Williams. Instead, he was a healthy scratch.

Darrel Williams has made the most of the Chiefs trust in him.

When the Chiefs allowed Williams to showcase his skills on that level of primetime platform, it wasn’t just a display of the team’s trust in Williams. It was also the culmination of a long road for Williams, one in which he’s somehow outlasted a host of competitors for multiple seasons for his role. It’s also one in which he’s outperforming some former teammates who were much more heralded along the way.

Back in 2018, the Chiefs first signed Williams to a rookie free agent deal to bring the former Louisiana State running back into the fold of competition. It was an intriguing signing for a few reasons, but the primary take on Williams was that no one truly knew what he could offer because he’d been buried with the Tigers for multiple seasons.

It doesn’t help when running back decides to stick with such a loaded team as LSU when he is trying to showcase what he can do, but Williams was faithful to make the most of the opportunities offered to him by the Tigers during his four-year career in Baton Rouge. This meant looking up the depth chart for all four seasons to talents like Derrius Guice and Leonard Fournette, both of whom would go on to be drafted early while he watched all seven rounds come and go without getting a phone call.

During his tenure at LSU, Williams certainly impressed in limited reps. He put up 312 career carries for 1,651 yards and 19 touchdowns, good for a stout 5.1 yards/carry. He was fairly one-dimensional until his final season in the SEC when Danny Etling focused on him more in the passing game. The results were 22 catches for 331 yards.

Think of the scenario when Darrel Williams first joined the Chiefs. It’s hard to believe that anyone would have bet on him to make the final roster. Here was the official depth chart in the Chiefs backfield shortly after he signed:

  • Kareem Hunt
  • Spencer Ware
  • Charcandrick West
  • Damien Williams
  • Kerwynn Williams
  • Darrel Williams
  • J.D. Moore
  • Anthony Sherman

At that point, Darrel was the third-best Williams on the roster, for all we knew, and the Chiefs had their young back of the future in Hunt with the veteran combo of Ware/West looking like the likely backup tandem heading into the regular season. Damien Williams had yet to pull off any sort of postseason heroics, but he was also lying in wait to surprise the Chiefs at that point.

The fact that Williams made that regular season roster for the Chiefs was a testament to what the team saw in him early, but that was just the beginning of what Williams would prove to the Chiefs given how difficult it is for any rookie free agent to continue to make the roster past all types of competition from hungry players, both young and old.

Here’s a comprehensive list of all of the players Williams has beat out for a job in the Chiefs backfield since he first won a roster spot back in 2018: Algernon Brown, Ray Lawry, James Williams, Marcus Marshall,  Josh Caldwell, Tremon Smith, Mike Weber, Elijah McGuire, DeAndre Washington, and Derrick Gore. He’s also outlasted Damien Williams, Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy and others as the Chiefs have made difficult roster choices as to who stays and who goes.

During his rookie campaign, Williams played in only six games and earned a meager 13 carries for 44 yards. However, his ability to block earned further trust in proceeding years and he went from 12 games played in 2019 to a full load in 2020. He’s still not earning any starter’s reps at all, with only 39 carries last season, but he’s become an occasionally trusted target in the backfield.

Last postseason, Williams shone with 28 carries for 135 yards and 1 touchdown in three postseason appearances. It felt like a corner was turned and that Williams was finally entrenched as the No. 2 back with Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the team’s lead option. After three full seasons, he’d not only turned heads enough to warrant a longer look. In that span, Williams had also earned a roster spot, staved off any and all competition, and found his way up the depth chart to become a produce in the postseason.

Coming into 2021, Williams is entering a contract season and should be plenty motivated to show off what he can do with the limited reps he’ll earn behind Edwards-Helaire and in such a loaded offense. If that sounds familiar, it is. Williams has been here before and maximized his opps in that scenario. He’ll do so again in 2021 with the hopes of forcing the Chiefs or some other franchise to reward him in much the same way as he’s provided returns on the Chiefs initial investment.

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