Notre Dame has had trouble recruiting the running back over the last few recruiting cycles ever since they brought in Josh Adams and Dexter Williams in the same class in 2015. On Wednesday though, Notre Dame running back coach Autry Denson is hauling in his best catch since taking over as Notre Dame running backs coach with 4-star Kyren Williams.
When Notre Dame landed Williams over the summer he only carried a 3-star rating, but he had a 4-star offer list with Michigan and Ohio State also finishing among his finalists before he selected Notre Dame. A 4-star rating wasn’t far behind after Williams tore it up as a senior for St. John Vianney.
Even before he had a 4th star from the recruiting services though, he was a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish staff zeroed in on Williams in the spring when they knew they were only going to take one running back in the class. There were higher rated backs from the services interested in Notre Dame, but the Irish staff saw all of the qualities that earned Williams that 4th star as a result of a monster senior campaign before the services did and got it done.
This past fall Williams proved the Notre Dame coaching staff right. He torched opposing defenses to the tune of 2,035 yards on the ground and another 725 in the air as a receiver. Combined he scored an astonishing 40 touchdowns as a senior – 26 rushing, 10 receiving, and4 on returns. Oh yeah, on defense he also added 66 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 sacks, 8 INTs, and 2 fumble recoveries. Just for good measure, Williams also completed two passes this year for 114 yards including a 68 yard touchdown.
Along the way, he made a few pretty ridiculous plays as well.
Before we get any further, just watch some of his senior year highlights.
Some ridiculous stuff.
Notre Dame won’t be asking Williams to play defense or to throw it outside of trick plays, but they must be salivating at the idea of how they can use a running back as complete and versatile as Kyren Williams in their offense.
They could be working him into the offense sooner rather than later too. Williams will enroll early at Notre Dame next month and participate in spring practice.
With Notre Dame losing Dexter Williams to graduation following the season, the Irish will head into 2019 with questions at the running back position. Tony Jones Jr has not been able to stay healthy through an entire season thus far and Jafar Armstrong struggled to do so as well in his first year as a running back after converting from wide receiver. Outside of those two, Notre Dame has 2018 freshmen Jahmir Smith and C’bo Flemister and converted quarterback Avery Davis.
Kyren Williams possesses something that all of the other backs heading into 2019 lack – he is a complete and versatile weapon at the running back position. Armstrong has shown he can be dynamic but he is still learning to be a running back. Jones has flashed at times over three years, but has never consistently shown he can be an every down back. Davis will likely focus on receiver or back at quarterback. The jury is still out on this year’s frosh.
One very unfair comparison that you will see for Williams is Saquon Barkley. The comparison is reasonable from the standpoint of Williams entering college as an accomplished runner and receiver. The more appropriate comparison, however, might be former Notre Dame running back/wide receiver Theo Riddick since the one knock of Williams out of high school is that he doesn’t have elite breakaway speed.
Listed at 190 lbs during his senior season, he would certainly need to put in some work in the weight room with Matt Balis to make an early impact possible as well, but if he did, he easily could give Notre Dame it’s most complete option in 2019.
Notre Dame has not had a true freshman lead the way at running back really since Darius Walker in 2004. Josh Adams ended up carrying a good percentage of the load in 2015 but that was mainly because first Tarean Folston was lost for the year in week one and then CJ Prosise got banged up at times throughout the season.
Williams could easily find himself in an Adams type role in 2019 given the durability concerns with Jones and the continuing development of Armstrong. In fact, the Notre Dame backfield entering 2019 in many ways is eerily familiar with that 2015 backfield that featured Tarean Folston who had durability concerns and Prosise who was also a converted wide receiver.
Whatever the role, Williams seems like one of the most likely freshman contributors in 2019 because of his versatility and playmaking ability. Even if he is just used on special teams, Williams will find his way onto the field next fall.
Notre Dame isn’t short on examples of freshmen running backs who allegedly lacked elite speed forcing their way up the depth chart. Darius Walker did it in 2004 and Denson himself did it in 1995. Neither Denson or Walker had “home run” speed, but both of them were mainstays in the Irish backfield from very early on in their Notre Dame careers.
Time will tell where Kyren Williams fits in the grand scheme of things, but one thing is for certain this early Signing Day: Notre Dame has landed a legit elite back in Williams.