2015 NFL Draft Prospect You Need To Know: ACC
Karlos Williams, the strong safety, was a bit underwhelming. He'd arrived in Tallahassee with unassailable credentials: the nation's top high school safety on just about everyone's list, a near-unanimous top-10 recruit. There were a few moments in his first two seasons at Florida State when he backed up the buzz (blowing up Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy on a kickoff return, the game-sealing interception with a minute left in the 2012 ACC Championship). But, for the most part, Williams was less than advertised, a rotational defensive back and solid special teams contributor. Good, but far from great.
Suddenly, the conversation has changed again. Greatness, it seems, is back on the table when talk turns to Karlos Williams, the running back.
In part, such anticipation is fueled by FSU faithful who want Williams to achieve on offense the kind of stature that once seemed inevitable for him to reach on defense. But this isn't merely hype or blind hope. Williams, the running back prospect, is for real.
The excitement began with his first carry, a 65-yard untouched touchdown run against Nevada in Week 2 of the 2013 season. Williams was moved to offense earlier in the week, and though he spent the season third on the Seminoles depth chart, he finished the year as their second-leading rusher (730 yards), finished seventh in the ACC with 11 touchdowns and was sixth nationally with his 8.0 yards per carry.
Now, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. are gone. Freeman was a fourth-round pick of the Falcons, Wilder is fighting for a roster spot in the Bengals' crowded backfield. And Williams, who was still looking to make his mark as a safety at this time a year ago, enters the new season as Florida State's feature back.
He's never started a game at the position, didn't even play it much in high school. But the expectations are as glowing as if he'd come to campus as a blue chip back. Media throughout Florida are suggesting he could set the school's rushing record this season, even that he could join his Heisman-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, in New York for this year's award ceremony.
And, of course, there's his NFL prospects.
Williams was moved to running back, in large part, because of his athletic gifts. He's a flat-out explosive runner, with both straight-ahead acceleration and lateral quickness that can make him a truly elusive ballcarrier. Then there's the physicality. He packs the same punch with the ball as he used to dish out to the other guys carrying it. Williams showed terrific progress over the course of the 2013 in lowering his pad level; when he's able to do that consistently, he'll be able to be an even more powerful runner and take away the big strike zone taller backs provide to defenders. Williams is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, and while he won't carry the toll of a workhorse workload with him into the NFL, he'd be wise to minimize the pounding he exposes himself to this season.
He was at his best last year getting to the edge, but Williams clearly has the strength and toughness to run between the tackles. Playing behind Florida State's offensive line is a blessing for running backs, so Williams quite often should find himself sprung to the second level before having to make anyone miss.
His physical nature makes Williams a willing blocker in pass protection, and he'll pick up essential experience learning his blocking assignments in the Seminoles' pro-style offense. And he has the hands of a decent defensive back, which should make him a reliable receiver. Florida State will want to get him the ball in space, so he's likely to get his share of targets.
Right now, Williams isn't the best back in the ACC. He's probably not yet a top-5 prospect in what's shaping up to be the best running back class in years.
But no one in the country will have a better opportunity to grow into a role than Williams does this season. And come playoff time, he's likely to be leaving college the same way he entered it -- as the guy everyone's talking about.