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Right out of the gate, this one is going to surprise some people because the Cowboys just signed free agent Ryan Williams basically as a lottery ticket. He’s a former second-round pick who, due to a plethora of knee injuries, has just 58 career carries in three seasons.
So why do I like Williams? First, he cost next to nothing. There’s no risk here; you could argue the knee injuries make him a risky addition, but that’s not really the case since they’re already priced into his market value. That’s why he came at such a discount.
Second, he’s young. Despite being drafted three years ago, Williams is still only 24 years old. That's important.
You might have noticed that I didn’t list Joseph Randle here, and one of the reasons that I’m so low on Randle is because of his lack of straight-line speed. Remember, speed kills for running backs, and Randle ran just a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash.
“BUT RYAN WILLIAMS RAN JUST A 4.63!!!” I can hear the rebuttals right now. It’s true that Williams ran a 4.63, and it’s true that the time is not indicative of success for running backs. So if Williams is to overcome his injuries, we’re going to basically need to believe he’s the exception to the rule.
Is there enough evidence to do that? Perhaps. First of all, as mentioned, he’s going to cost basically nothing. Randle cost just a fifth-round pick, but that’s still an expense.
Second, Williams was timed as fast as 4.49 at his pro day, according to NFL Draft Scout. Pro day numbers are often better than at the combine, but there’s good reason to think that the 4.63 doesn’t represent Williams’ true explosiveness: namely, his 10’3” broad jump and 40-inch vertical.
Finally, and most important, Williams is heavier than Randle—between eight and 14 pounds heavier, depending which listed weights you use. That matters, because the more bulk a running back has, the more you can put up with mediocre speed.
Do I think that Williams is going to set the league on fire? No, but I think he’s a better option than Randle. As for Dunbar…we’ll just have to wait and see.
Prediction: Dunbar in a close one