NFL draft deep dive: Who is Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams?

Williams is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Irish

Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams scores against Georgia Tech on Nov. 20, 2021 in South Bend, Ind.

The running back position might not be as set in stone as Bears fans think.

Running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert appear to have the position locked down. The question is whether they are different enough players.

So often these days, NFL teams want backs who have different skillsets. They want a variety of tools in the toolbox. Visiting with NBC Sports football analyst Peter King last week on his podcast, The Peter King Podcast, coach Matt Eberflus mentioned that the Bears might not be done adding running backs.

“We have to have runners, different pace runners,” Eberflus told King. “We have a good runner now, but we’re going to add some other pieces in there, potentially.”

One potential change-of-pace back who might be available to them in the draft is Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams. He is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and could be available to the Bears when the 71st overall pick comes up in the third round. It’s possible, too, that he could be on the board when they pick again in the fifth round.

With a smaller frame (5-foot-9, 194 pounds), Williams probably isn’t going to be a featured back in an NFL offense. But he fits the mold of a third-down back who can run routes and catch passes. That’s exactly what the Bears have been missing ever since Tarik Cohen tore his ACL in 2020.

“That’s really what I see myself as a football player, a complete running back, being able to come out of the slot or the backfield and being able to catch the ball,” Williams said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’ve been doing that since I was playing in high school. I was a receiver before I was a running back, so that’s something I definitely have in my toolbox.”

One knock against Williams is that he doesn’t have an electric burst. He ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine, but shaved a tenth of a second with a 4.54 at his pro day. He makes up for it with his toughness.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is a similarly sized running back who found success after going undrafted in 2017. Ekeler is a touch faster than Williams, but they both have a similar determination. Williams was a team captain at Notre Dame and proved he could be a three-down back at the college level.

“I’m a freestyler,” Williams said. “So I always say I bring that dominant mindset, I want you to know that I’m there, I want you to feel me. So if I see the opportunity, I’m going to try and run you over so that you know that I’m coming each and every time, and if I see you again, then I’m gonna try to make you miss.”

Prospect breakdown

Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame

Height: 5-9

Weight: 194

College career: Williams went to high school near St. Louis and was a two-way star as a running back and linebacker. He played in four games as a true freshman at Notre Dame in 2019, but sat out the rest of the season to preserve a year of eligibility. He went on to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2020 and 2021. He found the end zone 27 times as a rusher over those two seasons, plus four more times as a pass catcher. He caught 42 passes for 359 receiving yards in 2021.

They said it: “The Patriots’ usage of James White, Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden might be the blueprint for how to utilize Williams in the NFL.” –Lance Zierlein, draft analyst

Draft projection: 3rd-5th round pick

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.