Since its founding over 100 years ago, the NFL has seen literally tons of players who have a one in a million chance to make a roster spot, let alone become an All-Pro. Bills running back Antonio Williams falls into that category. Coming out of North Carolina, Williams was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2020 NFL Draft on May 8th. To say the least, it’s been an up-and-down path for Williams since that day.
A four-star prospect coming out of New London, North Carolina, Williams was part of two dominant offenses in his college years and provided solid numbers primarily as a backup. He spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Chapel Hill for his final two years of eligibility. Across four seasons, Williams amassed 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns on 202 carries. His contribution to the passing game was less stellar, posting career totals of 23 receptions and 160 yards. For a second-stringer, though, those numbers show some promise, with potential for more if given a chance as a starter.
Initially released on August 5th as part of the first wave of roster cuts, Williams was brought back on August 30th, re-released and signed to the practice squad on September 6th, released yet again, re-signed on September 30th, released once more on October 3rd, and re-signed to the practice squad. Hardly the warmest welcome to the league.
After enduring such turbulence during this season, Williams was finally called up for his first NFL action in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins and wasted no time in proving he deserves a spot on this roster. Last Sunday’s matchup saw Williams carry the ball 12 times for 63 yards and two scores against one of the league’s best defenses. For one week, at least, he proved any doubters and naysayers wrong.
Despite a dominant offensive season, after which offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will almost certainly leave the team for a head coaching position elsewhere, the Bills’ run game has been a weak spot all year. Devin Singletary and Zach Moss (who was injured in the Saturday win over the Indianapolis Colts – more on that below) have shown occasional flashes of success throughout the season, but overall the ground game has only demonstrated dominance in one or two games (Week 8 against the Patriots, maybe Week 3 against the Rams). Sure, it was only one game in the last week of a crazy season, but Williams still showed that he could be a solid addition to a ground game in need of some depth, and his upsurge couldn’t have come at a better time.
Of course, as Bills fans, we’re all ecstatic that they won their first playoff game in 25 years against former divisional rival the Indianapolis Colts. However, that glory came with a price: Moss went down with what may be a serious ankle injury. There’s no final word on the severity of his injury, but it looks as if he will definitely miss next weekend’s game, and quite possibly the next if the Bills advance.
Moss’s injury, however untimely, presents the perfect opportunity for Williams to step up. Yes, veteran back T.J. Yeldon was activated off of the COVID-19 list on January 6th, but will he be ready to return to play? As someone who hasn’t even suited up for a game since Week 5, the best guess here is: probably not. And since Daboll’s offense cries out for two healthy running backs, Williams could very much be the guy who gets the call for the Bills.
Of course, Williams is much less of a physical back than Moss and may not help as much in the passing game, but he can sure run the ball. The Bills were able to put up 96 yards against the Colts’ second-ranked rushing defense; nothing flashy, but demonstrating steady improvement in Buffalo’s run game. And in this weekend’s divisional-round matchup between the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo will be facing the defense that held Derrick Henry to only 40 yards.
For the Bills, Williams’ contributions will mean more on the ground than in the air. While both Singletary and Moss have done an average job in both parts of the offense, neither has outperformed the other in particular. In certain games, however, such as Week 13’s tilt against San Francisco, one ball carrier has gotten more touches than the other, with less than desirable results. That’s where Williams comes in.
If Williams is the guy the Bills call on to be the no. 2 behind Devin Singletary, he will face a fairly difficult challenge, but that shouldn’t be particularly concerning for Bills fans. Although Williams’ coming-out performance didn’t occur until the last week of the season, the Dolphins were still considered a top-tier defense and were highly motivated to earn a playoff berth. He’s unlikely to receive a majority of the carries at first, but if he gets going, and I mean really gets going, it’s going to be fairly difficult for Baltimore to stop him.
And there should definitely be a spot for Williams on next year’s roster. Williams can help fill the void we’ve had all season, creating a three-headed rushing attack that should improve the Bills’ ground game next fall.
Antonio Williams has overcome many obstacles throughout his young playing career, and his promising statistics against a dominant Dolphins defense shows he has the chops to be a valuable asset to the Bills in the not-so-distant future – maybe sooner than even he would have expected.