When the Buffalo Bills selected Jonathan Williams, Running Back out of Arkansas, in the fifth round, many Bills fans took to social media to express their confusion and frustration over the pick. Well, the pick is not as befuddling as many originally thought. While the Bills have bona fide studs in LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams and received a pleasantly surprising impact from Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams may see the field sooner rather than later, and not just on special teams as the team has advertised.
LeSean McCoy is fantastic. He has some of the best legs in football, and carried the Bills on his back multiple times in 2015 while bringing star power to the Buffalo backfield. However, McCoy is making a lot of money. In 2018, McCoy’s cap hit jumps to 8.95 million dollars. Cutting McCoy, or designating him as a June 1st cut in 2018, would only cost the Bills 2.625 million dollars in dead money that they could potentially move to the 2019 salary cap. There is a strong chance that Rex Ryan and Greg Roman run McCoy into the ground for three years and cut him loose. McCoy also suffered from nagging injuries for most of the 2015 season, a concerning sign for a Running Back with a lot of mileage on him.
Karlos Williams had an impressive breakout campaign in 2015, but injury concerns hover around the potential star. He missed five games last year, and was limited in some of the eleven games he played in. In addition to his missed time on the field, a frightening report came out in November of 2015 featuring Williams describing the effects of his third official concussion. With his violent style of running, Williams may suffer from concussions soon again, and one would have to imagine it will greatly shorten his career.
Mike Gillislee came on strong at the end of 2015, where he made big plays in a limited role. While he impressed, Gillislee’s work was an extremely small sample size in an offense that opened holes for Running Backs all season. Not to take anything away from Gillislee, he played very well last season, but assuming the Bills did not need to draft a Running Back because “they have Gillislee” is not a strong argument.
You can never have too much depth in the NFL, and the Bills proved that in 2015. In the preseason, the five Running Backs the team came into training camp with were all suffering from injuries. At one point, the only healthy Running Backs on the Bills roster were Ricky Seale and Bronson Hill while McCoy, Karlos Williams, Boobie Dixon, Fred Jackson, and Bryce Brown were all unable to play. After drafting Jonathan Williams last weekend, Buffalo now has five Running Backs to go into camp with including McCoy, Karlos Williams, Gillislee, and James Wilder Jr. (whom the Bills signed to a reserve/future contract in January). Do not be surprised if they add at least one more Running Back before training camp.
With McCoy’s age and money issues, Karlos Williams’ injury concerns, and the lack of experience from Gillislee, it is no wonder why the Bills drafted Jonathan Williams in the fifth round. In addition to the need of depth at the Running Back position, Williams is a real a talent. In today’s NFL, Running Backs do not have a lot of draft value. What does that say about someone who missed all of the 2015 season and was still drafted at a position that is not as coveted as it once was? There were many who argued that if he had never gotten injured, Williams would have been the second or third Running Back taken in the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2014, Williams ran for 1,190 yards and twelve touchdowns while splitting carries. The 5’11 220 pound runner has the potential to be a three-down back in the NFL, and many believe the Bills may have gotten a draft steal in Jonathan Williams. Do not be surprised if and when he gets snaps in the backfield in 2016.