Kerwynn Williams capitalized on his first big break and landed an NFL roster spot as a result. Can he do the same as an NFL starting running back?
The Arizona Cardinals selected Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. They took Clemson running back Andre Ellington in the sixth round. Those two were the 10th and 17th running backs off the board, respectively.
Kerwynn Williams was the 23rd running back drafted — out of 24.
Williams was a two-star recruit from Las Vegas in the 2009 class. He was 247Sports' 17th-ranked player in Nevada, 30th-ranked all-purpose running back and — wait for it — 2,033rd-ranked player in the class. The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder played running back and receiver as a junior and quarterback as a senior. He had zero Power 5 offers and one FBS offer: Utah State. He took it.
“I think it helped a lot,” Williams said when signing with the Aggies in February 2009, believing his position switches were a big reason for earning a scholarship. “I’m talented at more than one position.”
He had two carries for 10 yards as a freshman and 81 carries in each of the next two seasons, rushing for 451 yards and four touchdowns in 2010 and 542 yards and three scores in 2011. After Robert Turbin and Michael Smith both graduated and were drafted in 2012, it was Williams' turn.
He ran wild.
Williams had 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground and added 45 receptions for 697 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver. He was the only player in the nation to run for 1,500 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry and ranked 11th nationally in rushing and second in total yards — just 23 yards behind Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.
The monster season put him in the draft conversation but he buried as a third-down or specialty back that with a third-day and undrafted grades.
"I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion," said Williams before the draft. "There's no separate position for that. When you look at your position, it says 'RB,' it doesn't say 'third-down RB.' I think it's just another name for another position that kind of divides it up a little bit. But I don't really try to pay attention to that. I just try to be as well-rounded as possible and go out there and compete."
The Indianapolis Colts took him at No. 230, the 25th-to-last pick. After appearing in one game for the Colts in 2013, Williams was signed to the Chargers' practice squad in October, where he remained until the following August. He was cut shortly before the season and signed with the Cardinals' practice squad in mid-September.
Three years later, Williams is still waiting for his chance. Entering 2017, he had just 98 career carries for 545 yards and three touchdowns while sitting behind Ellington, Taylor and David Johnson. Taylor is gone and Johnson was placed on injured reserve this week after suffering a wrist injury in their Week 1 loss at Detroit.
That leaves Ellington, former undrafted free agent Elijhaa Penny and Williams, who rushed five times for 10 yards in the opener.
Though the Cardinals are expected to employ a committee to replace Johnson, Williams should finally get his starting shot. And like 2012 at Utah State, he'll try to prove — once again — that he's more than a third-down back.