Kyren Williams Poised To Breakout For Notre Dame Football

It used to be that running back was conventionally considered the weakness of the offense. Stocked with a talented and experienced line, speed and size at wide receiver, plus tremendous athleticism at tight end, not to mention a 3rd year starting quarterback, the offense was stacked.

Except at running back.

Gone was all of the experience of Tony Jones Jr., no returning home run threats, no high profile recruits among none freshman, and no proven players who can be counted on week after week. It was the fly in the ointment position for Tommy Rees’s offensive unit. But, is that set to change?

There has been plenty of buzz around true freshman speedster Chris Tyree who, if nothing else, has answered the questions about whether or not he had the size to be Notre Dame’s lead back. (He does.) But, he is not the only running back who has (reportedly) shined so far in fall camp. Another youngster, redshirt freshman Kyren Williams, has turned heads so far, not just with his play on the field, but also in his physique. Word is he has reshaped his body during the long offseason and is much more prepared physically to make a significant contribution.

When a player redshirts, it’s easy to forget about them as recruits, and what type of player they are. It’s an out of sight, out of mind thing. With reports that Williams has been one of the stars so far in the practice sessions, it’s time to get excited again about a player we should have been excited about all along.

Williams The Runner

Williams is an extremely versatile player, which I’ll get to later, but I want to focus on his ability as a running back, obviously since that’s the position he’s playing for our team.

First, Williams was an incredibly productive player for his high school team as a running back. In his junior and senior seasons he ran the ball 281 times for 2,957 yards (that’d be 10.5 a carry) and 48 touchdowns. (He also caught 106 passes for 1,499 yards and 22 touchdowns.) (My goodness.)

Because Williams is not a burner in terms of foot speed, he uses the full arsenal as part of his game. He can run inside, outside, make jump cuts, stiff arms, he runs over people, he outruns people. His instincts are phenomenal and he was nearly impossible to bring down one on one in the open field. The guy was a handful, even if diminutive in stature.

Here he takes a 4th and 1 outside run play, makes a perfect cut upfield, and goes the distance untouched. Vision, feel, burst.

Here he takes an inside handoff, hits the hole, runs through an arm tackle, turns two defenders into pretzels as they fall over each other, then leaves the last defender grasping at air before he outruns him. The full package here.

Williams has a dynamic skill set the other backs on the roster, besides Tyree, do not have. His weakness is his size and his top speed, but we’ve seen plenty of backs who lacked top end speed (for fun, check out Autry Denson’s 40 time) who were phenomenal college backs because they had those running instincts.


The reason I believe Williams can be a breakout player for Notre Dame is that he doesn’t have to leave the field because of some kind of package. He might very well be Notre Dame’s best, most instinctive, natural running back. He might also be their best receiver out of the backfield as well. Again, almost 1,500 yards receiving his junior and senior seasons as a pass catcher, and not all of those came out of the backfield either. They lined him up in the slot, where he ran the full route tree and was obviously very productive. Obviously, he was quite a handful after the catch.

Williams doesn’t have to be a part of a package. Similar to the way Notre Dame used Theo Riddick, he can be their pass catcher, their first down back, third-down back, and their inside back.

He can also, according to Brian Polian, run down and cover kicks. It’s easy to understand that thought when you watch his highlight tape. He’s certainly not afraid of contact.

(I have no reason to show this next clip, other than it’s an awesome play and highlights how good of an overall football player Williams is.)


I made something of a prediction on Twitter some weeks ago about who I thought the leading rushers would be on this football team, at the time it was based on some early reports about Williams and how fit he was.

I guess that’s me going on record, but barring injury that’s where I think this is headed. They are the two highest-rated backs on the team, they are the most natural runners, they are the most versatile, and they’ve received the most buzz. The first three reasons were the basis for my hunch, the last reason is why I think it might actually come to fruition.

If it does, then I don’t believe this offense has an obvious weakness to it, except perhaps star power at receiver, depending on what you think Lenzy’s ceiling is strictly as a receiver, and this is only until Kevin Austin gets back.

Notre Dame was fairly boring at the running back last season, with the stable fairly limited as far as dynamic ability goes. With Tyree and Williams both having four years of eligibility remaining, even following this year, that may not be the case again for a very long time.

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  1. Great post, Greg. I couldn’t agree more. His wow factor is impressive in so many ways.
    Excited about Williams and Tyree, this season, not next!
    I know the rationale of not playing Williams more than four was to preserve a year at ND that, if he’s as good as he obviously looks, won’t be at ND for that year anyway.
    So the rationale for only four last season now we hear is he’s built up and maybe was there an injury ?
    Bottom line, play your best whether they’re first or second year. Nothing against Jafar or any of the rest of the RBs, but I still have to wonder what might have been if he didn’t drop the first pass thrown to him last year . . .just wondering. But no need looking back unless you’re reading Bellamy’s book “Looking Back” but I digress.
    With all this talent and depth all over the field, just stay well and go forth and dominate. Let it be. Amen.

    1. Oops! That above reference was to “Looking Backward”. My apologies to the American Studies department from the early 70’s that assigned that book.*

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