The NFL draft marks the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of hundreds of young, aspiring professional football players. If you were to read the stories of a majority of projected first round draft picks, they might sound eerily similar. First, the young high school phenom gets recruited by all the "big-time" football school in his area before choosing to attend the school that he and his family had always dreamed that he would play for. Then he has a solid two to three year playing career before he declares for the draft where his professional aspirations finally come to fruition. Everything goes smoothly and according to plan … that was not the case for former Utes fullback Karl "The Truth" Williams.
Williams’ road to the NFL draft was long and full of unknowns. It took an injury for him to be named the starting tailback during his senior year at Layton High School, and even after amassing 998 yards on the ground with 13 touchdowns, he was lightly recruited coming out of high school. Williams played in seven games as a true freshman at Southern Utah University, but was not given the opportunity to showcase his wide array of skills. With his football future hanging in the balance, Williams decided to leave his scholarship at SUU in order to walk-on at the University of Utah.
After redshirting his sophomore year, Williams was ready to make an impact on the field and show his coaches that his walk-on status meant nothing to him in terms of ability. Williams made the most of his opportunities, especially when it came to special teams. He was named the special teams’ captain in 2012 and earned more chances on the field because of his tenacious work ethic. In 2013 Williams played in 11 of Utah’s 12 games with three starts as a running back/fullback. Although he only amassed 51 yards on the ground during his senior season, Williams was an instrumental part of the Utes’ running game and was rewarded with three touchdowns in his final campaign at Utah.
This brings us to the time at hand, the start of the 2014 NFL draft. Although Williams didn’t see a ton of playing time while at Utah, he has still been recognized as one of the top five rated true fullbacks available in this year’s draft according to NFL.com. He’s also received some media attention outside of Salt Lake City for his underdog story and his skills which many NFL scouts say is "a dying breed." Orlando’s Sun Sentinel even named Williams to their Draft Man Crush List.
Here are Williams’ strengths and weaknesses according to his NFL.com draft profile.
Strengths: Thickly built. Tough and aggressive. Runs hard downhill. Exceptional timed, straight-line speed. Good core power to out-leverage defenders and move linebackers out of the hole. Good balance to kick through arm tackles and stay on his feet after chucking blockers in kickoff coverage. Accomplished special teams cover man. Effective cut blocker. Dependable catcher. Exceptional weight-room work ethic and passion for the game. Unselfish, team player.
Weaknesses: Was never a full-time starter in a spread offense that did not make heavy use of the fullback position. Limited career production. Is not elusive and cannot make defenders miss. Tends to let the ball into his body.
Bottom Line: Tough, dedicated, mature, self-made overachiever who was not heavily deployed at a position that has become a dying breed, but made an impact when he was on the field and plays with the fearless abandon of a classic wedge-buster. The type of player fans root for, Williams could make a living as a core special-teams contributor who leads by example.
Williams is projected to go in the 7th round or be signed to a team as a priority free agent. No matter how he joins a team, Williams is sure to make an impact at an NFL training camp. His special teams skills will go a long way in aiding his bid for an NFL roster spot, and his exceptional work ethic and toughness, in my opinion, almost guarantee him a spot on an NFL practice squad. With the NFL now being a pass first league, hopefully there’s a team out there willing to take a chance on drafting a real fullback to rebuild the league’s downhill running reputation.
Williams’ road to the NFL is still full of unknowns and will surely feature some bumps and turns along the way, but then again, that’s been his entire football career. From high school, to FCS, to FBS, Williams has always been overlooked. But now, it’s his time to soak in the bright lights of the NFL and prove that, much like the Tom Brady’s and Antonio Gates’ of the league, that late round picks and undrafted free agents can show up the blue chip athletes on the football field.