Breakout Star: Former Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams Delivering for Rams

Standing just 47 yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard threshold, former Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams‘ NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams has taken off in just his second season. Williams is by far the Rams’ leading rusher this season with 953 yards on 186 carries, reaching the end zone eight times. He’s also been a component of the team’s passing attack, with 30 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.

Irish fans watched Williams have a similar breakout campaign in the pandemic-plagued season of 2020. Coming off his first season of four carries for 26 yards and one catch, his emergence then was a key aspect of the team’s 10-2 season. During 2020, he had the first of two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons before moving on to the 2022 NFL draft.

Reality Check

While some pre-draft boards had Williams ranked among the top three running backs in that draft. he watched 163 other players get chosen before the Rams took him in the fifth round. The only other Irish player taken in that selection process was safety Kyle Hamilton by the Baltimore Ravens with the 14th overall pick.

Questions about his speed and whether his five-foot-nine frame would hold up against the rigors of life in the NFL served as a few of the reasons for his draft tumble. Another might have been the hit-or-miss nature of Notre Dame running backs who have thrived in the NFL over the past quarter-century. Over that stretch, only four Irish running backs were drafted, the highest pick being Julius Jones. A second-round pick in 2004. Jones gained just over 5,000 yards with three teams in his seven seasons.

Williams managed to make the Rams’ roster last season but then quickly found himself on the injured list with a high ankle sprain. That kept him off the field until November, though his return only garnered him a total of 139 yards on 35 carries as well as nine catches for 76 yards.

Catalyst for Change

Despite his nearly invisible rookie season, Williams quickly made his presence felt in the Rams lineup during this year’s training camp. That became evident when he scored two touchdowns in the opening road win over the Seattle Seahawks. Production like that, as well as his receiving skills and pass protection capabilities, elevated him to the team’s starting running back role in the season’s second week.

That change also foreshadowed the trade of running back Cam Akers to the Minnesota Vikings. After becoming a starter, Williams had a pair of 100-yard games and scored four more touchdowns. His season-best performance of 158 yards against the Arizona Cardinals unfortunately also resulted in another ankle injury that sidelined him for the next four contests.

Since returning last month, he’s picked up where he left off, gaining 497 yards on 89 carries and scoring one touchdown in the past four games. That strong 5.58 average yards-per-carry is supplemented by his talents as an effective passing option for Rams’ quarterback Matthew Stafford. In that department, he’s caught 17 passes for 87 yards.

The Impact of Williams

One of the reasons why Williams’ value has skyrocketed with the Rams is that it allows the team to offer more balance to its pass-friendly attack. Rookie Puka Nacua as well as former Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp are the central components of the team’s passing game. Howeverm having Williams available offers them the occasional breather.

In addition, without the presence of Williams, the effectiveness of the Rams’ rushing game is considerably diminished. Williams is averaging 5.1 yards per carry for the season. Meanwhile, the 12 players who have collectively gained 745 yards are getting only 3.72 yards every time they tote the ball. That group has also scored only five touchdowns, compared to the aforementioned eight by Williams.

The Immediate Road Ahead

After defeating the Washington Commanders on Sunday, the Rams have a 7-7 record with three regular season games remaining. They currently are clinging to the seventh and last playoff berth, thanks to winning a tiebreaker over the New Orleans Saints.

With Williams in the Rams’ lineup, the team has won six of 10 games and without him, they dropped three of four contests. That contrast may be important to remember in the weeks ahead. On Thursday night, the Rams host the Saints, followed by a road contest against the New York Giants and a regular season finale on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.

A Blueprint for Audric Estime?

Williams’ breakout season has no doubt caught the attention of Audric Estime, who last week declared for the 2024 draft. Right now, early projections have Estime being taken as high as the second round or perhaps in the fourth round or lower. If the latter situation develops, he can take heart and use the example of Williams as a path toward becoming an NFL standout.

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  1. ND gets a great OC. Looks like they want an NC before the system collapses. Good. They have 5 years to get one. After that Notre Dame may want to lead an exodus out of the FBS for schools wanting student athletes.

  2. BK’s stats for wins were good. But not representative of what went on there.
    BK did not embrace Notre Dame any more than Bob Davie did.
    BK demanded a lot and caused some breaks with traditions that made ND different and better.
    BK also never upset a team or overachieved.
    The real ND great coaches won true upsets.
    BKs all time wins are a gift of longevity due to the fact that he wasn’t BobDavieTyWillinghamCharlieWeis
    He wouldn’t have lasted as long had he succeeded Holtz or any decent string of ND coaches.

  3. After coming in and starting as a Freshman, Kyren dropped a pass in his first game and saw little if any time the rest of that season, denying us fans and Kyren the opportunity of him providing us with the excellence he evolved into as a college RB, another fatal mistake from the Brian Kelly era.

    1. its 3 years guys lets move on from BK! His 3rd year at ND they went undefeated & played in CHAMP GAME vs BAMA thats not gonna happen for Freeman. 3 undefeated seasons 2 college football playoffs & all time winningest coach in ND HISTORY, he seems to have done something right. everybody bitches about his Recruiting being BAD, does that mean he did more with less? He”s gone & doesnt worry about ND, with all the OC questions & transfer portal news who cares about him. WHATS IMPORTANT NOW!

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