The value of the running back position is a popular topic of debate in today's NFL. In the Kansas City Chiefs' first playoff game of the season, their starting running back played a major role in the victory.
Despite rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire's significant progress made in his rehab from his hip/leg injury, he was inactive for the Chiefs' divisional-round contest against the Cleveland Browns. With Edwards-Helaire out, the team's options at running back were Darrel Williams, Le'Veon Bell and Darwin Thompson. It was Williams who got the nod, and he never looked back.
Williams, who signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2018, ran for 78 yards on 13 carries (6.0 yards per attempt) and added four receptions for 16 yards. Many expected Bell's role to increase in a playoff environment, but he took a back seat and received just 16% of the offense's snaps while Williams was involved 79% of the time. After the game, head coach Andy Reid explained his decision to go with Williams.
"Listen, it was just the hot hand," Reid said. "Le'Veon (Bell) has done everything we've asked him to do and he's a great kid, man, love the kid. You just get into these and you kind of go with what's working, and for whatever reason, Darrel was working."
Williams' skillset helped him carve out a decent role in the offense throughout the regular season. Oftentimes used in two-minute drills and on third downs, his consistency in pass-catching and pass-protection made him a reliable option despite not being an extremely dynamic playmaker. In 16 games, he toted the ball 39 times for 169 yards and a touchdown while catching 18 passes for an additional 116 yards.
Williams was a stabilizing force against Cleveland, tallying 42 of his 78 rushing yards (as well as a five-yard catch) after quarterback Patrick Mahomes was knocked out of the game due to an injury. Reid knew his young running back was prepared for the challenge, citing his hard work as one of the main reasons why.
"Listen, I'm proud of him too because he's never hung his head, even when he was third and fourth, he just keeps going," Reid said. He's not maybe a household name, but maybe after this game people will know him and respect the work that he does. He's a very intelligent football player and he plays, as you saw, a very physical game."
That physicality has contributed to Williams earning his "Darrel the Barrel" nickname amongst Chiefs fans. At 224 pounds, he's a battering ram of a running back and makes opposing defenders feel his presence every time he handles the ball. In a game of attrition, players of Williams' build can wear a defense out over time. Without Mahomes on the field, his production was much needed.
With Edwards-Helaire's return potentially on the horizon, this may be the last extended look Williams gets for some time. He certainly capitalized on the opportunity given to him and with his steady play, the Chiefs weathered the storm without their best player. In a playoff game, you can't ask for much more than that.