After impressing fans, coaches, and the media for his four years with the Washington State Cougars, James Williams decided the time was right to make the leap to the NFL by forgoing his final season of eligibility and declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. That decision didn’t pay off with a draft pick, but he’ll still get his shot at the NFL: Williams has signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
Williams will be taking his athleticism, elusiveness, and versatility with him to Kansas City, and those skills give him a very good chance at earning a roster spot, despite being undrafted.
Boobie — as he’s known — ended his career on the Palouse with 1,540 yards rushing, good for 18th all-time in the Wazzu record books, and only trailing Jamal Morrow’s 1,795 yards for running backs from the Air Raid era. Williams added 202 receptions for 1,437 yards, and scored 27 total touchdowns. The receptions landed him at third all-time for WSU for all positions, tied with Morrow. (Statistical serendipity: Both backs had 316 rushing attempts for their careers as well.)
Of course, Boobie did his work in three years, while Morrow fully exhausted his eligibility. Had Williams come back for another year, it seems likely that he would have ended up second all-time in receptions and in the top ten for rushing yards. There’s an argument to be made that James Williams had the best three years of any running back in WSU history. Regardless, there wasn’t much left to prove at the college level for Boobie, so it was not a shock when he announced his decision to leave for the draft.
Many are familiar with Williams’ story — it seemed to be a particular favorite of ESPN during their broadcasts of WSU games. Originally from Ohio, his family moved to California to escape a crime-riddled neighborhood. They struggled for a time, often sleeping in the family truck, interspersed with nights at cheap motels. On the verge of returning to Ohio, the family eventually found its feet, due in part to Boobie’s football connections, and the rest was history. And, of course, a boon for Washington State and Mike Leach.
Williams will be remembered for his spin moves and hurdles, but the single play that will stand out in the minds of most Cougar fans will likely be the touchdown against Oregon in 2018.
Williams’ game seems perfectly suited for the modern NFL. The closest analogue is probably James White of the New England Patriots. Smaller than the prototypical bell cow style of running back, but with a shiftiness that allows him to make defenders miss and pick up extra yards, and very good as a receiver out of the backfield. There has been some talk by the pundits that Williams could get a look in the slot, which is something that he did occasionally when WSU went to the empty set this year.
There will be a lot of eyes on Kansas City games coming from the Pacific Northwest, all of them rooting for James Williams to land on their 53-man roster. Good luck to you, Boobie, and Go Cougs!