The 2017 NFL running back class has a chance to be legendary. It’s hard to even rattle off a top ten without leaving marquee names off the list.
Leonard Fournette of LSU is regarded as a once-in-a-decade type of prospect, with extremely rare burst and power. Dalvin Cook out of Florida State is the type of player who can go for six any time he touches the football, the complete package. And let’s not forget about Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, whose elusiveness in the open field could be the most impressive thing college football has had since Reggie Bush suited up for USC.
It’s an incredible pool of players, all shouldering the workload for big-time programs on a huge stage. Which leads to how one player who did not even play football in 2015 is forcing his name to get recognition: BYU senior Jamaal Williams.
Williams wasted little time in making an impact for the Cougars. As a freshman he compiled 775 rushing yards on 166 carries for 12 touchdowns, which are all records for a true freshman at BYU.
After being named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list, Williams exploded as a sophomore in 2013. He rushed for over 1,200 yards, scored 7 touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. He had put himself in the perfect position to have a gigantic junior season before a planned declaration for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, that’s where his momentum came to a halt. After an average start (by his standards) to the 2014 season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury on November 1st at Middle Tennessee. Williams did not play football in 2015 to get his personal life in order, leaving many wondering what his future held.
Williams returned to the team to prepare for the 2016 season, the first under head coach Kalana Sitake. It did not take long for teammates in practice to notice how much faster, bigger and stronger he was, while also being back to full health. While the talent had always been evident, what could college football fans expect from him after being away from football for an entire year?
866 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns later through just six games, Williams has not only answered questions about his impact, but has raised many of what an NFL future might hold.
This dude runs so hard, reminds me of a young Matt Forte – now leading CFB in missed tackles forced with 35 (PFF) pic.twitter.com/NrJWwmVOuH
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 9, 2016
As a prospect, he has special lower body power, driving through tacklers for extra yards. He’s not just a ‘power’ back, though, as he’s forced a nation-leading 35 missed tackles this season (PFF Premium). That’s nearly six missed tackles forced per game, an absurd rate.
Williams is a rare case in this loaded class, as he’s a senior, while the other top running back prospects are juniors for the most part. There will be questions as to why he was not with the team in 2015 as well. As for the concerns over the season-ending knee injury from 2014, he’s never looked better.
That does not mean the team captain should be overlooked, as he has been for the most part throughout 2016. With a running style and build very similar to Matt Forte, he has a chance to be a special three down back at the next level. I see him as a top five running back in this 2017 group, as loaded as it is.
Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey aren’t leaving the spotlight anytime soon. They just have to make a little more room for BYU’s Jamaal Williams.