When looking through the Notre Dame running back depth chart the concern is there doesn’t seem to be any true top-level players. There is talent on the roster, but there likely aren’t any future All-Americans in the backfield.
The positive, however, is the backfield has quality depth. The veterans — Jafar Armstrong, C’Bo Flemister and Jahmir Smith — get much of the attention, but rising sophomore Kyren Williams is a dark horse to surprise and creep up the depth chart.
ALL-AROUND GAME STANDS OUT
Williams is arguably the most versatile running back on the roster. Armstrong would have previously held that role, but Armstrong must show he can get back the burst and quickness to be a legit route runner that he showed in 2018. Williams had over 3,000 rushing yards in his high school career, but he also hauled in over 2,000 receiving yards.
The 5-9, 205-pound sophomore is a legit weapon in the slot as a screen player, in the quick game and he can run downfield routes effectively. Williams has strong hands, good body control and he tracks downfield throws well. We saw those traits last spring and early in fall camp, with Williams standing out for his ability to make plays in the pass game.
During his senior year in high school, Williams showed off impressive vision and a much better feel for running the ball out of the backfield after moving over from wide receiver earlier in his career.
Williams has the kind of skill set as a runner and passer to at the very least compete for a role on third down. The key there will be Williams using his size and leverage to be effective in pass protection. If Williams can step up and thrive as a blocker he’ll be very hard to keep off the field on third-down situations.
Williams and Smith have arguably the best running back builds on the roster. Williams is short but he’s not small, possessing a squatty build with a thick lower body. He has the kind of frame that should allow him to pack on good size, which gives him a chance to develop into an every-down back that can handle a higher volume of touches.
Williams has impressive foot quickness, and his lack of long speed is somewhat masked by his initial burst (explosiveness) and ease of movement. I didn’t grade him all that high coming out of high school, but the more and more I evaluate him and the more he fills out his frame the more I like him as a prospect.
WILL SIZE LIMIT HIM OR HELP HIM?
Here is the million dollar question with Williams, will his size be more of an aide or a hindrance?
I’ve gone back and forth on this myself, and there are two ways this can go. As a runner, I discussed above how his size helps him. He’s got the build to hold up, but his lack of height could aide him by making him harder to see, and when you combine that with his quickness, vision and ability to get through smaller holes could make him an effective runner.
But without any elite traits, Williams needs to have a strong all-around game, and the question remains as to how effective he can be in the pass game with his height. Being short means a quarterback must be far more precise with Williams, which could limit how effective he could be as a downfield pass catcher. Missing high while throwing to Williams could be dangerous.
If he can negate this and still be an impact player in the pass game, Williams could find himself sprinting up the depth chart in fall camp.
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!