I love running backs. I love scouting them. I love watching them play. But I also realize that their “value” has decreased in recent years. In back to back years, a running back did not go in the first round. I’ve heard and seen many NFL pundits discuss how running backs are becoming a dying breed in the NFL. I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. We just saw a run-first team with an elite back win the Super Bowl this year. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers played in the super-bowl and both teams had a run-first approach. I don’t believe running backs have little to no value anymore. They’ve just become easier to find.
This week, the Dallas Cowboys have agreed to terms with former Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams. Williams was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft and to date injuries have crippled his career. But I don’t believe that is the only reason he failed in Arizona. Ryan Williams was miscast as a big-play, home run back that will create plays on the edges. He was drafted to compliment Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower, when in fact, he was more similar to those players. Before I begin my scouting report on Ryan Williams, let’s take a look at the measurables of all the running backs on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster:
Williams isn’t the fastest player, but having a 40 inch vertical at 212 pounds does show me that he has explosiveness in short areas. Williams and Murray are the heaviest backs on the roster and I think the Cowboys are looking for a true back up to DeMarco Murray. Ryan Williams fits this offense very well. He’s a zone runner who can find the open cut-back lanes well. I’m going to show you an example of Williams doing so, and I want you to remember that when viewing the all-22 film, this looks like a simple run, but it’s not. Take a look:
Up until this past year, DeMarco Murray struggled to see this cut-back lane. It looks like a huge lane from an-eye-in-the-sky, but it takes a while to master this type of play. For Ryan Williams, this kind of run comes natural to him. He can run the designed play, but knows how to be creative when it’s time. Now this run is a staple of the Cowboys offense and Williams could re-invent his career in this offense.
If you are a smaller back like Ryan Williams is and you don’t possess home run speed, you are going to have to make your mark between the tackles like I just showed you he can. But the next part of the game that I like watching with Williams is his ability to make defenders miss.
That little juke that Williams does in the hole allows him to pick up extra yardage and get the first down. And I know what you are thinking, if this guy was so good, why was he available? Well let’s remember a few things. Besides being hurt, he was behind an awful offensive line, placed in a crowded backfield and was victim of a coaching switch in which the head coach didn’t believe he fit his offense. Putting Williams in a zone-blocking scheme with a much better offensive line and a quarterback who threatens defenses, I think this may be the perfect place for Williams to revitalize his career.
The signing of Ryan Williams is a low risk, high reward move. I see Williams as a better fit in a zone-blocking scheme where he can grind out yardage inside the tackles, but has enough lower body explosion to rip off some big gains. That first picture is very similar to how DeMarco Murray thrives in Dallas. If Williams can get through camp, he’s the second best pure runner in the class and is a better fit in this offense than Joseph Randle. It will be interesting to see how Williams does in mini-camp and in training camp. He could become another Will McClay steal if he can make the roster.