Rookie Report Card: Karlos Williams and Jesse James

Dan Meylor


Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover one or two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll give him a grade in three categories: performance to date, 2015 potential and long term upside.

The series continues with a look at Karlos Williams and Jesse James.

Karlos Williams, RB BUF
Week Nine Stats: nine carries, 110 yards, two rushing touchdowns.

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Williams was an interesting prospect coming out of Florida State. Once considered one of the premiere runners in college football after a strong junior year where he averaged 8.0 yards per carry and scored 11 times on limited carries, he disappointed in his final year with the Seminoles, which seemed to hurt his draft stock with both NFL talent evaluators and dynasty owners alike.

After he was drafted by Buffalo with the 155th pick in the NFL draft, I wrote the Bills’ Draft Review and shared my thoughts about Williams.

“A tall tailback at 6’-1”, Williams has an upright running style but has very good explosiveness at the line of scrimmage for his size. Excelling as a cutback runner, he has very little wasted movement in the backfield and hits the hole with authority, quickly squaring his shoulders and turning into a downhill runner.

Williams is difficult to bring down at the point of attack. With powerful leg drive and impressive footwork for his size, he’s able to slip through small creases and drive through defenders making him a quality short yardage prospect. Using short, powerful steps, he runs through arm tackles with ease and forces defenders to wrap up to bring him to the ground. Once defenders get their arms around him, he always falls forward for additional yardage.

At the second level, Williams has the straight line speed (4.48 40-yard dash) to outrun many defenders but lacks the wiggle to make linebackers and safeties miss in the open field. Although he attempts to use a stiff arm at times, he simply tries to protect himself from big hits with it rather than delivering a blow which makes it relatively ineffective.”

I concluded that report with the following:

“Overall, Williams is a solid pro prospect, especially in the Bills’ one cut, power running scheme. Although he could stand to run a bit lower to the ground and lacks the elusiveness to make defenders miss at the second level, he’s a powerful runner who can break tackles and has the speed to be explosive in the right offense.

Despite having a disappointing senior season and landing in Buffalo where he’ll be forced to sit behind LeSean McCoy, Williams has the raw tools to develop into a starting NFL tailback with RB2 fantasy upside.”

Fast forward to week nine of his rookie season and I still feel like a majority of what I saw in Williams coming out of Florida State last winter is true, with a small exception.

As anticipated, he hasn’t shown a great deal of shake to make defenders miss in the open field, but it hasn’t really mattered. Because of his exceptional burst through the hole, he’s been able to beat linebackers and safeties to the running lane and explode through the second level of the defense, which has negated his lack of wiggle.

Through his first five games as a professional, he has been as advertised as a powerful tackle-breaker. He consistently runs through arm tackles and runs downhill which has been an ideal fit in Buffalo.

For those who watched Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, it was more of the same. Playing sparingly early in the game as a thunder to McCoy’s lightning, he got a red-zone touch in the second quarter when McCoy left with a shoulder injury. On first-and-ten from the 11 yard-line, he lined up to the right of Tyrod Taylor who was in the shotgun. After taking the inside handoff, he followed his fullback to the left, cut through the running lane, and did what he does best – broke an arm tackle from a linebacker before stretching the ball over the pylon for the score. He showed his vision, burst and tackle-breaking ability on the play.

In the fourth quarter with the Bills nursing a lead and McCoy on the bench, Williams again showed his explosion and vision at the line of scrimmage and it once again turned into points.

On third and 12 from the 38-yard line, the Dolphins had just six defenders in the box. Taylor was again in the gun with Williams to his right. On a similar play as his first score, Williams took the handoff and once again stretched the run to the perimeter until he found his running lane. When he did, he exploded through the crease and blasted past linebackers and safeties on the way to another score.

Overall, everything you need to know about him can be seen in those two carries. He’s at his best when he’s able to pick his hole, put his foot in the ground, and explode downhill. That’s exactly how the Bills use him and to this point in his rookie season, only a concussion has been able to slow him down.

In his five games as a professional, he has looked like a playmaker as a change of pace to McCoy in the Bills’ backfield, but also certainly looks to have the potential to be a full time runner at some point; even though he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry in his only chance to fill that role so far this season.

In the short term, fantasy players should continue to see Williams as a plug and play RB2 when McCoy isn’t suiting up and a flex consideration even when Shady is on the field. Because he’s likely to be playing second fiddle for the foreseeable future though, dynasty players should keep in mind that Williams’ value is likely to fluctuate rapidly – and do their best not to overreact to the ups and downs.

Back when I wrote that scouting report on Williams after he was drafted, I saw his fantasy upside as an RB2. While I still think that applies, he’s shown his potential could actually be as a top-15 fantasy player at the position. Dynasty owners should continue to be patient with him. That patience has the potential to be rewarded handsomely once he gets the chance to be “the guy”.

karlos report

Jesse James, TE PIT
Week Nine Stats: two catches. 13 yards, one touchdown

As a fan of Big Ten football, I got to see James play many times while he was at Penn State. Throughout his time with the Nittany Lions, he showed potential as a seam-stretching in-line tight end but there were also glaring weaknesses to his game that made it relatively surprising when he decided to leave school early.

James was incredibly inconsistent in college. At times, he’d give great effort and surprise many, running solid routes and making one-handed catches in traffic. There were also times where he appeared to be disinterested and totally remove himself from the offense by getting jammed off his route at the line of scrimmage or running rounded routes. He also struggled while in college as a blocker, despite having the size (6’-7”, 261 pounds) to be productive in that area. Again, it seemed as if he simply wasn’t interested in being a quality blocker.

All of these red flags made it a tad head-scratching that the Steelers, who usually value strong blockers like Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth at tight end, would take James as a developmental prospect in the fifth round of the draft.

Despite his shortcomings though, he made the team in training camp and finally got to see the field in week nine against the Raiders, where he caught two passes for 13 yards and a score.

His touchdown on Sunday was a simple play. Lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage, he got inside of the linebacker with a swim move and Ben Roethlisberger hit him for the four yard score. He was the third option on play.

James didn’t see the field often on Sunday and looks likes the typical backup tight end in the Steelers’ system. It’s unlikely he sees much playing time in the short term with Miller locked in as the top option, and due to his shortcomings, it’s a longshot he’s even his heir apparent down the road.

Likely only rosterable in extremely deep dynasty leagues, James should stay on the waiver wire in most leagues despite catching his first NFL touchdown on Sunday against the Raiders. There are better options out there for those looking for young upside at the position.

jesse report


dan meylor