Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech was not selected until the second round of the NFL Draft, yet there was no lack of excitement in his camp at Radio City Music Hall. Williams’ family, friends and colleagues were all visibly thrilled, as some of his contingent quickly and enthusiastically donned Arizona Cardinals caps. The media interview room was much more sparsely populated than earlier in the draft, yet there was a palpable air of electricity as Williams sat down and addressed the remaining members of the press.
“I always saw myself getting picked pretty high,” Williams said. “The hard work paid off and I’m glad one of the teams realized that I can contribute to their success.”
If there was a detectable buzz in the room, and much of it may have come from Williams’ large crew of supporters who joined him at his first pro press conference. Yet Williams carries his own brand of excitement, and it’s going to go with him right from the interview room to the field.
“I feel like I cover all cylinders as a running back, whether I need to make people miss or whether I need to be a goal line running back,” Williams said. “If you need three or four yards, if you need somebody to come out of the backfield and catch, or if you need somebody to stay in at third down and block.”
Williams isn’t simply bragging. He can be a complete RB at the NFL level, willing to run inside when needed, and he catches the ball out of the backfield very well. Yet what stands out most about Williams when you watch him is his determination and explosion. He is capable of making a big play any time he touches the ball. That adds yet another dimension to an offense that already includes Larry Fitzgerald. Williams does not hesitate to answer when asked what type of player the Cardinals are getting.
“A playmaker. However you want it.”
The Cardinals may have walked off with one of the best value picks in the 2011 draft. It is apparent they cannot be satisfied with who they have now. Tim Hightower’s fumble issues have been well documented, and Beanie Wells has dealt with injuries and has been unreliable. The Cardinals also have LaRod Stephens-Howling in their RB stable. At 5-9, 205, Williams is not about to take over as a featured back. Yet he can pair with Wells or Hightower effectively in a time share, and is ready to do so.
“I’ve played football since I was four years old and I’ve only been ‘that guy’ one year in my life when Darren Evans and that was in 2009 had an ACL tear,” Williams said. “So I have no problem sharing the ball.”
That year, Williams rushed for 1,655 yards and an ACC record 21 TDs on 293 carries. The Cardinals likely did not draft Williams to sit behind Wells and Hightower, or become a niche part of a rotation. There are persistent rumors that one of the current RBs could be moved, and the drafting of Williams only adds to such speculation. The Cards certainly need a QB and have been regularly mentioned as suitors for Kevin Kolb. It’s difficult to envision Arizona keeping all four of their top RBs, especially after nabbing Williams.
It would be hard for the Cardinals not to use Williams often right away. His talents are apparent, as a guy who can get behind defenders quickly to make big plays, yet also as a smart runner who can pick the right holes near the line of scrimmage. One of Williams’ best assets is his patience, which is hard for many RBs to exhibit early in their pro careers. His cutback abilities also make him stand out. Yet he is also interested in the finer points and the history of the game.
“I have to make sure I know the offense and I have to be the best student before I can go out there and perform,” Williams said. “I know the playbook is going to be like a dictionary. I paid a lot more attention to players in the past than I do in the present.”
Williams said he grew up admiring Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk. Such statements display a solid mental approach to the game, and it’s clear Williams offers much in terms of intangibles as well. Even if you speak to him for just a few minutes, it’s obvious that he is also prepared for the rigors of pro football as a person.
Because of his height, Williams knows he faces challenges at the NFL level. Smaller running backs must be elusive to stand out. Yet Williams does not appear to be the next J.J. Arrington. He does not lack for confidence, either, when his height is addressed., Hokies defensive lineman Antoine Hopkins gave Williams a mantra to remember during their college days together.
“One day he came up to me and said ‘Man, you’re small.’ I was like ‘Yeah I know.’” Hopkins then told Williams to play like he was “10 feet tall.” Williams then told himself he was “10 feet tall” for the rest of his career, every game he played. “And nobody’s 10 feet tall, so I’m the biggest guy out there.”
Soon, the Cardinals and their fans will view him as a large force as well. And he likes the prospect of people eventually drafting him in Fantasy Football as well.
“It’s going to be cool. I love that people admire what I do because I love doing what I do, so it makes me feel 10 times better.”
Stay tuned, because it’s going to get interesting in Arizona. The prediction here is that the Cardinals clear the way to become a quick contributor. He simply could not have been drafted to see sporadic action.