Ryan Williams is among this class’ most gifted ball carriers, but the difference between his 2009 and 2010 campaigns is night & day. As a redshirt freshman, he was one of the nation’s premier backs, showing a rare combination of instincts, burst, agility, and power. His sophomore campaign was derailed by a nagging hamstring injury and the last tape we’ve seen from him looks very different from the player that many grew to love. The talent and innate feel for the game that he possesses still ranks him among the best backs in the class. Expect Williams to come off the board as early as the middle of the second and I don’t imagine he would last long in the third were he to make it there.
Williams is an aggressive inside runner that lowers his shoulder and picks up yards between the tackles. In college he was an effective north-south runner with the ability to pick and slide. He shows patience at the line and has a lot of wiggle in the hole. In 2009, he proved himself to be an excellent cutback runner. He possesses tremendous vision, with the ability to find and fit through small creases. His burst and explosiveness allows him to turn ordinarily short gains into first downs. The competitiveness and confidence he has a runner is exemplified by an often violent, slashing running style.
Though he had most of his success as an inside runner in college, Williams also exceled running outside the tackle box. When the middle of the field is congested, he shows the ability to slide, shift, and find room on the outside. He possesses the burst to turn the corner and changes gears effortlessly. In the open field, he can be a terror to bring down due to toughness and the ability to make defenders miss. He was much more successful running outside in 2009 when he was not hampered by a hamstring injury. Though he has enough explosiveness to break big runs, he is liable to be caught from behind due to a lack of breakaway speed.
Despite being utilized as a receiver relatively infrequently at Virginia Tech, Williams looks to be a natural catcher with soft hands out of the backfield. He was unproductive as a receiver in college, with only 26 career receptions. When he did get the ball in his hands, however, he showed a lot of ability after the catch. It is likely that he will be featured more as a receiver out of the backfield at the next level.
In college, ball security was not a glaring issue for Williams, but he certainly was not perfect. He touched the ball over 400 times in 2009 & 2010 and wound up with five career fumbles. There is reason to believe this should be an emphasis in transitioning to the NFL game. Like Adrian Peterson, relentlessly fighting for extra yards has led to fumbles for him in the past.
Vision, Instincts & Awareness
This is the category in which Ryan Williams is an elite talent. He possesses terrific vision and does an excellent job finding holes & cutback lanes. At Virginia Tech, he showed tremendous running instincts and a rare ability to read what is happening in front of him. It appears he has an innate feel for the position and is among the best players in this class with the ball in his hands. A combination of vision and burst is very dangerous; in time, he could be among the most successful backs in the NFL.
Perhaps no back in this class is tougher to track in the open field than Williams is. He is very powerful, runs with a lot of confidence, and breaks a lot of tackles. In 2009, he bounced off of weak tackles and often ran straight through arm tackles. He shows the ability to string moves together at the second level and impresses with his agility & elusiveness. If there is a complaint, it is that he may run too aggressively at times and will have to do a better job in the NFL reducing direct hits.
If there is one glaring weakness in Williams’ game, it would be his pass blocking. I don’t mean to imply he is worthless as a blocker, but there is a lot of room for improvement. A big part of why he was redshirted as a freshman was to further develop as a pass blocker. In order to see the field on third downs in the NFL, he must prove the ability to block as well as catch.
As a freshman, Williams displayed the ability to finish runs aggressively, often leaving defenders on their backs. He shows a great second effort and will never go down easily. In traffic, he keeps his feet moving and his legs churning, allowing him to pick up extra yardage or break free at times. He is a player that obviously enjoys contact and his violent running style is often fun to watch.
There are several schemes in which Williams could fit at the next level. His vision and burst make him a very intriguing option in a zone-blocking or stretch-zone system. Despite having the ability to hold up as a feature back, he could really excel if paired with a bigger back in a platoon. Though most teams should be satisfied with his ability as a receiver, some that emphasize the running back as part of the passing game may be turned off by his lack of experience out of the backfield in college.
Size, Speed, Strength & Agility
Though on paper, Williams may lack elite physical specs, he is an explosive athlete with physical tools that should allow him to succeed at the next level. He possesses a compact frame that appears perfect for the NFL. His speed is just average and he can be caught from behind in the open field. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in burst and explosiveness. His acceleration ranks among the best in this running back class and his 40 inch vertical at the NFL Combine turned some heads. He is very agile, with quick feet and fluid hips. Strength and power is very evident in watching him play, but he may not be big enough to take pounding as a feature back.
A lack of durability may push Williams down the board on draft weekend. A nagging hamstring injury plagued his 2010 season as he wound up missing four games. In the games he did play, he appeared to lack the same burst, quickness, and power that we had seen the year before. Injuries will need to be considered when drafting him, as you don’t want to invest in the next Kenny Irons. He has excellent football character. Williams is very confident and competitive, always playing with a chip on his shoulder. He is mature and tested by hardship, as he has taken care of his brother (who has an intellectual disability) for most of his life. His intelligence is a question, but on the field he appears as smart as any back around. The potential is there for Ryan Williams to develop into an extremely successful, every-down back at the next level. If he is healthy, it is tough to say any back in this class has more upside. He could contribute early on at the next level, with the skill-set to rank among the league’s elite if he stays on the field. Expect him to make strides as a pass-catcher, as he seems to have a lot of untapped potential there. Teams will have to be careful, however, as he has an unusually violent running style for his size and a history of injury through his career. I fully expect Williams to be one of the best players to come out of this class if handled properly.
2010: 10 games/5 starts – 110 car 477 yds 4.3 avg 9 Td; 10 rec 109 yds 1 Td
2009: 13 games/13 starts – 293 car 1,655 yds 5.6 avg 21 Td; 16 rec 180 yds 1 Td
A Business major at Virginia Tech.
Awards & Honors
2009: ACC Rookie of the Year. First team All-ACC.
Prospect Video Clips
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