When it comes to NFL Draft prospects, I’ve developed a reputation for being an ageist, which might not be unwarranted. Considering that, you can imagine my disappointment that there is only one running back prospect, Ezekiel Elliott, who will play his rookie year at age 21.
That said, Elliott is not the only back to finish his college career at age 20. Thanks to a season-ending foot injury in August of 2015, Arkansas’ Jonathan Williams technically finished his career in 2014 shortly before he was legally allowed to drink. Given the “what have you done for me lately” society we live in, it might be easy to forget about Williams, who was a second Team All-SEC performer in 2014 and Phil Steele’s No. 6 running back prospect last summer. Let’s take a dive into his profile and see where he stacks up against this year’s class.
Bruisin’ before they were Boozin’
To get a sense for how productive Jonathan Williams’ career was before his injury, I decided to research what the 2016 running back class had accomplished before their 21st birthday. To be clear, this is just a thought experiment and not some holy grail. However, I do think it illuminates what a productive, young runner Williams was.
Here is their career production before their 21st birthday:
|Player||School||RSI Rank||Scrm Yds||Scrm TD|
|Ezekiel Elliott||Ohio State||1||4410||44|
|Kenneth Dixon||Louisiana Tech||4||3915||61|
|Jonathan Williams '14||Arkansas||10||2666||22|
|Storm Barrs-Woods||Oregon State||19||2170||20|
|Wendell Smallwood||West Virginia||18||1401||3|
|Tre Madden||Southern California||15||904||7|
|Tyler Ervin||San Jose State||17||817||5|
|C.J. Prosise||Notre Dame||8||714||3|
|Tra Carson||Texas A&M||16||548||5|
- Ezekiel Elliott is amazing. His age-touches-production profile is very similar to Todd Gurley’s coming out of school.
- Paul Perkins, Kenneth Dixon and Jordan Howard really separate themselves into a second tier, at least in terms of production.
- Even if Devontae Booker is an older prospect, he was still productive early on. Note that these numbers represent junior college stats, so interpret those as you will.
- Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake had accomplished about the same thing by their 21st birthdays.
- It’s interesting that Arkansas teammate Alex Collins is the more highly coveted back by the scouting community, but was actually less productive than Williams in the snapshot above.
Does Size Matter?
Thanks to the Senior Bowl, we’ve already got a rock solid read on Williams’ size. Weighing 219 pounds and standing a whisker shy of 5 feet 11 inches, here’s guessing he’s as big as any of the top backs, outside of Derrick Henry. Also, he’s got 10 inch hands, which is about as big as you’ll find on a running back prospect. Here’s how the top backs in this class compare, keeping in mind that only Williams, Dixon and Drake are officially measured at the Senior Bowl. Everyone else is estimated based on their college listings, which tend to be inflated.
There’s no questioning that Derrick Henry is the gargantuan of this class, but if Zeke’s and Jordan Howard’s size has been inflated, as Eric Galko agrees is likely the case, Williams is right there as one of the biggest backs in the class to go along with his outstanding age-production profile.
Is J-Will Athletic?
Take this portion with a grain of salt, but a recent article by Charles Kleinheksel inspired me to look more into high school track & field data for prospects. Using the TrackingFootball.com database, I was able to find 100m dash times for a number of running backs from the current and previous draft classes.
|RB||High School Wt||High School 100m|
Looking around the internet to see how 100-meter times translate to forty yard dash times, the fastest times in this group (10.7) would be a fraction slower than a 4.4 forty, while Williams’ 11.17 would approximate his forty time to be just under a 4.6. Obviously this is just a ballpark estimate, and maybe his foot injury will have reduced his speed, but if he ends up being a 219 pound back who runs a 4.6, that is plenty athletic to be a difference maker in the NFL.
Considering that Williams is the ninth-ranked back in the RotoViz Scouting Index and was the ninth back selected in our pre-Combine rookie mock draft, I think he’s being underappreciated right now. With a fascinating blend of young production, plus size and (potentially) adequate athleticism, I think he could be a steal in dynasty rookie drafts. I’ve attached DraftBreakdown’s only video of him below. His athleticism is really on display at the 1:50 mark.