Rookie Player Profile: Karlos Williams

Brian Malone



Karlos Williams is a size-speed freak. At 230 pounds, he was the heaviest running back to run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash at the combine. Indeed, the next closest was Jeremy Langford at 208 pounds. Williams showed off his straight-line speed at Florida State by moonlighting as a kick returner. When he gets into the open field, he can run past most linebackers and over most defensive backs.

Williams also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He was a great match for Jameis Winston’s improvisational style – when the play broke down, he found a way to get open, and Winston trusted him to make catches in traffic. The quickest way for Williams to work his way into an NFL offense will be as a pass-catching specialist.


[inlinead]While Williams has outstanding long speed for his size, his burst and agility leave much to be desired. His 10-yard split, 3-cone, and short shuttle times range from poor to mediocre and these deficiencies show up in Williams’s film. He’s a classic one cut and go runner.

Williams never earned a feature role in the Florida State backfield. He played safety and special teams his freshman years. As a junior playing behind Devonta Freeman, he rushed only 91 times, though he racked up an 8.0 yard-per-carry average thanks to huge performances against the likes of Nevada, Idaho and Bethune-Cookman. As a senior, he was outcarried 170-150 by freshman Dalvin Cook, and he posted a paltry 4.6 yards per carry (compared to Cook’s 5.9).

Lastly, you cannot ignore Williams’s potential off-field concerns. While at Florida State, he was investigated for an alleged domestic assault against his pregnant ex-girlfriend. The woman posted photos of her bruises on Facebook but asked police not to press charges. Police ultimately dropped the investigation. In another incident, a man who was robbed during a drug deal in Tallahassee named Williams as the person who set up the deal. The victim further stated that Williams was his “hook up” for marijuana, suggesting that Williams had arranged multiple deals for him. Williams was not charged.


Williams steps into a Bills backfield where LeSean McCoy is presumed to be “the man,” given the giant contract he signed this off-season. The buzz out of Buffalo is that veteran Fred Jackson may not make the final roster – that would leave McCoy, Williams and likely Bryce Brown as the Bills’ running backs. Williams might be able to earn a role as a third down pass catcher, but running backs typically don’t catch many passes in offenses run by new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. (Before Roman arrived in 2011, Frank Gore averaged 3.2 receptions per game; in Roman’s offenses, Gore averaged just 1.1 receptions per game.)


Williams’s main competition for the primary backup job in Buffalo is fellow size-speed back Brown. Brown may have a bit more agility, but he has battled fumbling issues and was third in the pecking order behind Jackson and Anthony Dixon last season in Buffalo.

As suggested before, the main threat to Williams’s short-term value is Greg Roman. He’s a backfield receiving specialist in an offense where that position doesn’t exist. As such, he’ll have to earn a short-yardage role if he wants to see the field on offense.

Short-term Expectations

Williams’s short-term outlook is grim. McCoy is an all pro running back heading into his age 27 season, and he just signed a massive four-year deal with the Bills. (For context, Marshawn Lynch was heading into his age 27 season when the Seahawks drafted Christine Michael.) Barring injury, Williams won’t get an opportunity to be the lead dog for at least two years.

To make matters worse, Greg Roman’s history suggests he won’t highlight Williams’s best feature – his receiving ability. So, even if Williams does get an opportunity, he likely won’t post anything better than mid-RB2 numbers. Most likely, he will be used primarily on special teams.

Long-term Expectations

Williams has enough athleticism and receiving skill that you should stash him at the end of your bench, hoping he gets an opportunity. With some backs like this, I recommend selling as soon as that opportunity arises and you can get any value for him. Not so with Williams. If he looks like he’s going to have a chance, especially in an offensive system where he can take advantage of his receiving skills, hold on to him. The odds are pretty good he’ll bust a long, highlight-worthy touchdown and cause people to line up ready to pay you a first-round rookie pick for him.

However, given the allegations of drug connections and domestic abuse, risk adverse owners should be leery of counting on Williams as a long-term asset, even if he finds himself in an opportunity to be a consistent fantasy producer. Given Williams’s off-field concerns, having a respected veteran like Fred Jackson in the locker room might be useful for him, even if that means more short-term competition.

NFL Comparison

Williams’s size, straight-line speed, and receiving ability remind me of another running back who never earned a feature role in college – Peyton Hillis. Like Hillis, Williams could be a short-term monster in PPR leagues if he ever falls into a featured role behind a good offensive line. And if he can avoid rankling his teammates and coaches as Hillis was rumored to do, he may be able to parlay that short-term success into a few years of big fantasy production.

Rookie Draft Advice

If you want to lock up Williams, he’s more than 90% likely to be there at the end of the third round of a 12-team league. In most drafts, he’s falling to the mid-to-late fourth. In smaller leagues or leagues with fewer bench spots, he’s likely to go undrafted. Given his lack of immediate opportunity, he’s a prime candidate to be cut from dynasty rosters in September. So if you’re looking to acquire him at no cost, you may be able to do just that.


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