Football, more than any other sport, embraces the “next man up” mentality. Chiefs running back Darrel Williams might as well be the poster child.
Williams’ role in Super Bowl 55 has almost nothing to do with Williams himself. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will get the first crack at backfield work, a first-round rookie who’s recovered from a late-season injury. Le’Veon Bell, at one time one of the NFL’s best players, will get time on the field, too. Williams will be on the sidelines waiting for his chance, an injury or a fumble sending the least prominent of Kansas City’s running backs onto the grass at Raymond James Stadium for the biggest game of his life.
All season long, Williams has been seizing the chances that have come to him from circumstances out of his control. Why not in the Super Bowl, too?
Here’s a look at what you need to know about Williams, who’s got the ability to go from “Who?” to “hero.”
1. College teammate of Clyde Edwards Helaire
Google’s search algorithm was struggling the week before the Super Bowl — a search for “Darrel Williams LSU” brought up a “Darrell Williams” from 1991’s bio page before it brought up the Williams we were looking for. But that was just Google dissing a player who had a very solid college career.
Williams was never the star, playing first in the shadow of Leonard Fournette and then behind Derrius Guice. But over the course of his college career, Williams ran for 1,651 yards and 19 touchdowns while catching another 38 passes for 462 yards. He had 820 yards and nine scores on the ground as a senior in 2017.
That 2017 roster also featured a freshman named Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The eventual Chiefs starter rushed only nine times for 31 yards in that lone season on the same roster as Williams, but they were reunited in Kansas City in 2020.
“That was a guy I sat by my freshman year in meeting rooms,” Edwards-Helaire said of Williams in June 2020. “I pretty much drip, just ask Darrel 1,000 questions, being that annoying freshman in the room. But Darrel, I mean, he helped me a lot. And ultimately to this day, he’s still helping me. Before I came out here, we’re texting and talking and everything, pretty much giving me the rundown about everything. Darrel’s been a huge part of this little circuit I’m going on.”
2. At one point, a high-school quarterback and Arizona State commit
Williams’ high school career at John Ehret High School in Louisiana featured quite the one-year turnaround. As a junior, Williams was forced to play quarterback, although he mostly ran from the position. His team went 0-9.
A year later, Williams moved back to running back with a new QB in tow. He ran for more than 2,300 yards and scored 33 times while John Ehret went 9-2.
Williams first committed to Arizona State, but he eventually flipped his commitment to LSU. His choice to join the Tigers came about three weeks before the more highly touted New Orleans-area rusher, Leonard Fournette, picked LSU over Alabama, but Williams stuck with the commitment.
3. Williams’ mother is fond of making predictions
Williams is the son of Darrel Sr. and Karen Williams. Recently, Karen spoke with Crescent City Sports, a New Orleans-based sports website, and said she knew since Williams was 6 that he’d play in the NFL.
Karen has another prediction that’s yet to had a chance to be fulfilled, though. In 2020, Williams couldn’t suit up for Super Bowl 54 because he’d been placed on Injured Reserve late in the season. Karen relayed to NOLA.com what she’d told her son even as he missed out on that Super Bowl victory.
“Your career is just getting started,” Karen Williams said she told her son. “You have so many years. You’re going to get it again. And next time you’ll have the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.”
4. The ideal “next man up”
Williams isn’t a one-trick pony. He can do it all on the football field.
Run the ball? Sure, to the tune of 39 carries for 169 yards this season and 13 carries for 52 yards with a TD to win the AFC title game. Catch the ball? That might be Williams’ best skill, with Mahomes frequently choosing to toss to Williams somewhere in the flat and let him make a play. He’s caught 36 passes for 310 yards across the past two seasons.
Williams’ running style, too, is a bit of everything, power to run over a smaller defender but quickness and agility to evade bigger tacklers. Put it all together and Williams is the ideal stopgap option for Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy, no matter the situation.
“I’m proud of him too because he’s never hung his head, even when he was third and fourth, he just keeps going,” Reid said Jan. 19. “He’s not maybe a household name, but maybe after this game, people will know him and respect the work that he does. He’s a very intelligent football player and he plays, as you saw, a very physical game.”
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