Pros: Anyone who watched Virginia Tech football last season can tell you one thing for sure: running back Ryan Williams can flat out play. Williams rumbled for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns on his way to setting the Virginia Tech single-season rushing record. Words like durable, dependable, scoring machine, versatile and turnover-free all accurately describe the red-shirt freshman’s performance. You want consistency? The Hokie matched an ACC record with ten 100-yard rushing games. How about stamina and conditioning? The ACC Rookie of the Year started all 13 games, played in 559 snaps and carried the pigskin 292 times. Not just a workman-like runner, the New York (state) native is a big play waiting to happen, possessing long speed (runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range) and athleticism (36.5” vertical jump). Combined with a strong and solid frame at 5’10” and 210-plus pounds, Williams is packed with NFL potential. He is able to complement his fleetness of foot with acceleration, elusiveness, the ability to change directions without losing momentum, lateral agility and a quick-decision, north-south running style. One of the reasons why the first-year running back seemed to get better as the season wore on is the fact he is an intelligent runner who expanded on his game with lessons learned from earlier in the season. While he is not afraid of contact, Williams understands when to pick his battles; he knows when to truck a defender and when to avoid the big hit. The phenom is a demon in the open field and the moment he gets into the secondary he is one cut or juke from a long touchdown run. While not used consistently as a pass catcher, Williams has flashed ability as a receiver coming out of the backfield—he has long arms and catches the ball with his hands away from his body. The multi-talented runner is capable of executing every rushing play imaginable—from smash-mouth, between-the-tackles runs, to stretch plays designed to go outside. Williams has excellent bounce in his step and it allows him to almost float along the gridiron effortlessly.
Cons: While there isn’t much about his game that we don’t like, with just one year of experience at the college level, Williams has room for improvement. He has a bad habit of swinging the arm that he is holding the ball with when trying to build up movement and accelerate through his cuts. Although ball security wasn’t an issue in 2009—he did not fumble last year—if Williams doesn’t learn to keep the ball high and tight at all times, he will become prone to strip tackles at the next level. That won’t be tolerated. Even though he didn’t miss any games, Williams did suffer a pre-season ankle injury in 2009, which he re-aggravated during the season. He was later pulled from the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the third quarter of Tech’s victory over Tennessee with a left ankle sprain. As a precautionary measure, Williams was held out the Hokies’ 2010 spring game with what was labeled a bruised knee. The All-ACC performer has excellent definition, but could add some weight and muscle to his extremities. Doing so would not only make him a more physical runner, but also better prepare his body to withstand the punishment inherent to playing running back in the NFL. Williams also has to improve his balance, as he has a tendency to get knocked off his center of gravity. As impressive is he is all-around, the Virginia Tech product does fall a bit short of the NFL prototype in terms of size and speed.
Our View: After starting tailback Darren Evans was lost for the season with a pre-season injury, many wondered if the Hokies’ rushing attack would take a step back. Enter Williams…and the rest is history as he seamlessly stepped in as Tech’s feature back and focal point of their offense. What is special about Williams is that he has athletic skills and instincts that cannot be taught or coached—he has all the tools to develop into a lead horse in the NFL. Yes, he has flaws in both his game and body, but they are easily correctable with proper training and some tough NFL coaching. Williams will be taught to eliminate the swinging motion with his ball hand when running. His problems with balance, concerns about his long-term durability and his ability to fight through contact can all be alleviated by adding about 10-12 pounds of muscle in his arms and legs. If the record-setting runner can add some weight and build on the success of his red-shirt freshman year, he is a lock for the top half of the first round of next year’s draft should he declare (he will have two years of eligibility remaining following the 2010 season). In fact, with a big season Williams has a chance to crack the top 10 and be the top running back in the 2011 draft class. There are big expectations for the Hokies in 2010 and how Williams performs under the spotlight will also play into his evaluation. Moreover, if senior signal caller Tyrod Taylor continues to improve on his game, it will only benefit Williams. Look for an All-American type season and a potential Heisman run for this Hokie."
Williams is also a competent receiver out of the backfield yet not a blazer carrying the ball nor a strong back on the inside. Is he a feature runner for the next level? We’ll need to watch more of him in the coming seasons before we give him that label."
Negatives: Only 202 pounds, would like to see him add 10-15 pounds to take the pounding of the NFL... Won't blow anyone away with his measurables... Still needs to improve his pass blocking, redshirted his freshman year to focus on pass protection... Would like to see him featured in the passing game more... Has had a few lingering injures, but nothing that has kept him out of a regular season game... Numbers could dip this year with the return of Darren Evans."
Unfortunately for Williams, this year Evans is back and it is he who is spending some time on the sidelines with an injury. Williams started the 2010 campaign off by rushing for three touchdowns in the first three games, but was injured in that contest and missed the next four games…and counting. He should be back by the end of the year since the hamstring injury does not appear to be that serious, but the lack of playing time is putting a damper on his draft status.
Heading into the year Williams was probably one of the top four or five draft eligible running backs, but others are passing him by while NFL teams start to wonder if he can build off of his freshman campaign or if he will develop into a player who struggles with injuries. His 3.0 yards per carry this season will not get him drafted very high and right now he would be wise to return to the Hokies for another year."
He is a finisher whose competitiveness stands out on tape. The big question — and what could still push him out of school early despite his lack of production — is whether he will be able to stay healthy, similar to Cadillac Williams coming out of Auburn."
For my money, he shouldn't. Even with a Rookie Salary Cap all but guaranteed for 2012, Williams' Stock has to be severely depressed after an awful year, and yet it could SKY ROCKET with an healthy 2011 season. If he DOES opt to Come Out, this year, he could slide into the 3rd Round, at which point somebody would get themselves one HELL of a bargain.
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