No player has seen their stock rise in recent weeks more than Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams, as the Chiefs were forced to fill a substantial hole in their running game following the November 30th release of second year phenom Kareem Hunt.
Andy Reid initially turned to Spencer Ware, resulting in a less than stellar performance in Oakland before injuring his shoulder and hamstring in a Week 14 matchup against Baltimore. Williams was given his opportunity to run with the role of RB1 in Week 15 against the Chargers, producing two goal-line touchdowns with 49 yards on 10 carries, as well as 74 receiving yards on six receptions. The former Oklahoma Sooner followed up his first start with another strong performance in Week 16, recording 103 yards on 13 carries, with a score through the air on seven receptions with 37 receiving yards in a Sunday night primetime matchup in Seattle.
With both Ware and Williams being in contract years, the Chiefs had seen enough in Williams to provide some sense of stability in the running back position for 2019 and beyond. On Thursday of last week, the Chiefs and Williams agreed on a two-year contract extension that will allow Williams to earn up to $8.1 million with incentives. While many in the industry are skeptical to proclaim Williams as the clear-cut starter for 2019, recent history with the Chiefs and their handling of the running back position, particularly amid unexpected circumstances, may paint a clearer picture.
Former Chiefs All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles tore his right ACL in October of 2015, just four years after tearing his left ACL in 2011. Backups Charcandrick West and Ware were forced to pick up the slack for the rest of the year, culminating in contract extensions in March of 2016 for both players. Ware was the recipient of a two-year, $3.6 million extension while West agreed to a two-year, $2.4 million extension, according to Spotrac.
The Chiefs elected not to select another running back in the 2016 draft, instead opting for the likes of Chris Jones and Tyreke Hill. Kansas City had no qualms with Ware handling the bell cow duties with West serving as his backup for the 2016 season. Ware responded with 1,368 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns on 247 touches. It’s important to note that Ware’s previous high in touches was 78, which took place in 2015 filling in for Charles. Will history repeat itself following the unexpected loss of yet another star Chiefs running back?
Considering the glaring holes on the Chiefs’ defense, it wouldn’t come as a shock to see the Chiefs front office prioritize that side of the ball in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Chiefs will pick up an additional second round pick, receiving the Los Angeles Rams’ second rounder as compensation for their trade of cornerback Marcus Peters this past offseason. The Chiefs have made a habit of rounding out their running back depth by way of undrafted free agents. Both current rookie Darrel Williams and West went undrafted before signing with Kansas City.
It’s important to note that the Chiefs aren’t without their draft mishaps when it comes to running back. In 2013 the Chiefs selected Knile Davis in the 3rd round of the draft, with Davis failing to establish himself as a featured back after Charles went down in 2015.
No one has a crystal ball when it comes to forecasting what NFL front offices do at certain positions, all we can do is find tendencies based on recent history. The Chiefs could absolutely spend a day 2 or day 3 draft pick on a running back, but will that pick translate to Kareem Hunt or Knile Davis? Or will they revert to 2016 and not spend a single draft pick on the position? Are cost effective free agents such as Tevin Coleman or Mark Ingram viable options?
We’ll have to wait and see how Damien Williams performs in the postseason over the coming weeks, but maybe we shouldn’t be so dismissive of the real possibility of Williams leading this backfield in 2019. And we should all know by now just how valuable the RB1 in Andy Reid’s offense will be for fantasy purposes.