In my last post, I mentioned that in acquiring Dexter Williams in the sixth round, the Packers filled a roster need as well as acquiring a player with great potential. As you might have noticed, I try (but often fail) to keep posts from being excessively long, so this one is essentially a continuation of the previous one (Packers Welcome a Third Member of the Fighting Irish to the Team).
Right off the bat, I think Green Bay got a steal when they chose Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams in the middle of the sixth round. Though he was only around the fifteenth running back taken, he has more potential than many of those who went ahead of him.
More to the point, he’s got infinitely more potential than Jamaal Williams, the guy who starts out ahead of him on the depth chart. Jamaal is a likeable guy, a hard worker, and he’s good at ball security. His blocking has gotten lots of praise, and he’s shown himself to be above average as a receiver. So what’s the problem?
The problem is he’s not just mediocre or average when it comes to athleticism, he’s seriously subpar. His dash speed (4.59) is 39th percentile; 3-cone drill and 20 yard shuttles (agility and burst indicators) are 16th and 6th; his vertical jump is 7th; his only impressive measurable trait is his broad jump, which ranked him in the 81st percentile. Many NFL players can compensate for one athletic weakness by excelling in other areas, but Jamaal is a substandard athlete across the board.
This contention is borne out by his NFL stats. Thanks to Coach McCarthy, he has an ample sampling over two years: 274 carries and 52 pass receptions. In that time, he’s only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Blame can hardly be placed on his blockers, because his running mate, Aaron Jones, has averaged 5.5 yards per carry running behind those same linemen, and running much the same plays.
If we know anything about the new head coach, it’s that Matt LaFleur believes in setting up the pass with a strong run game. He aims to have lots of downs being second and four or third and one or two, so that he’s got the option to run or pass on nearly every play. With Jamaal, you get a steady diet of second and eight or third and five.
I like Jamaal, but I like him as the backup for Jones and Dexter Williams. I’ll go ahead and predict that by mid-season LaFleur, along with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and RBs coach Ben Sirmans, will also see it this way. Unlike the past, I think you’ll see the Packers’ new coaching staff recognize and reward players based on merit and production. I’m hoping Dexter is installed ahead of Jamaal even sooner, but that will depend on how soon he adjusts to the professional game and opposition.
Sure, I’m jumping the gun, the guy hasn’t played a professional down or even had a team practice. But the differences in athleticism between these two players is striking. Dexter is faster (4.57, 49th percentile); he’s far more agile (71st and 59th percentile in the two agility drills), and his two jump test percentiles (96th in the broad jump, 71st in the vertical) are also much better.
These test indicators translate on the playing field to one guy who can accelerate faster into an opening, and that ability alone accounts for much of the reason that Jamaal seldom rips off big yardage on his runs. The scouts describe Dexter as a one-cut runner – which is just what LaFleur looks for. Jamaal is solid and dependable – fine attributes for a backup. In stark contrast to watching film of Jamaal, you’ll see that initial burst on almost every play on Dexter’s highlight reels.
Though Williams has a fairly thin college resume, that’s clearly because for three years he played behind a talented RB, not because he was marginal or slow to develop. Even with being suspended for the first four games of his senior year, Dexter had a terrific year in 2018, almost leading his team to an undefeated season. There was nothing fluky about Dexter averaging 111 yards per game, or averaging 6.3 yards per carry, in 2018.
Many will view the Williams’ pick as taking a risk. But isn’t the sixth round the ideal time to invest in a player with this guy’s upside? I’m not real concerned about a 20-year old making some stupid off-field mistakes. In fact, there are several feel-good stories out there about how much he’s matured as a result of his errors – for which he assumed full responsibility. We don’t know why he was suspended for four games, but Brian Gutekunst surely does, and he doesn’t view it as disqualifying.
Regardless of which of these two RBs emerges higher on the depth chart, I’m confident that the Packers are now solid at running back. It could be that Dexter will one day go down as a fantastic late-round gamble by Gutey and his scout team.