After a productive redshirt junior season at Washington State, running back James Williams decided it was time to declare for the NFL draft.
Williams went undrafted over the weekend, but agreed to terms with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent. Williams, who rushed for 560 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 83 passes for 613 yards in Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense, knew going undrafted was a possibility. But he still determined it was time to pursue a pro career in order to support his family.
Leach, Washington State’s head coach since 2012, said in January that he agreed with the NFL when its advisory board suggested Williams return for his fifth-year senior season. And after the draft came and went without Williams’ name being called, Leach tweeted a screenshot of a tweet from The Athletic’s Max Olson, who listed the names of underclassmen who left school early and went undrafted.
Dickerson: Leach thought the decision was ‘dumb’
Leach’s tweet caught the ire of NFL Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, who is an advisor for Williams. On Sunday, Dickerson tweeted that Leach “talked down” Williams’ draft stock “nonstop” since Williams made his decision to leave school.
Monday, in an interview with 247Sports.com, Dickerson confirmed that it was Leach’s tweet that set him off.
“Leach made it clear to James he thought the decision to come out early was dumb,” Dickerson said. “I see the pros and cons of that debate and have been on both sides of it depending on the situation. I won't argue with anyone who thinks it's better to finish up college. A college degree can't be argued with. But we don't live in an either/or world. There are extenuating circumstances to consider — finances, injury risk, wear and tear on the body and so on. James said all he was trying to do was help his family.”
In the interview, Dickerson inferred that Leach spoke negatively about Williams’ NFL prospects when talking to NFL personnel about the running back.
“I feel coaches need to look at the whole person, the athlete, when advising them. And once a decision is made — to go or not to go — I believe coaches should support their guys 100 percent and it's clear from talking with NFL personnel that didn't happen for James,” Dickerson said. “The fact he [Leach] never congratulated James, publicly or privately, on the great situation he's headed to in Kansas City says a lot.”
Leach: We don’t tell the NFL who to draft
Dickerson also acknowledged that Williams did not receive overly positive feedback from NFL personnel, including the possibility of not being chosen, but still decided to declare for the draft in order to support his family. Per the Spokesman-Review, Williams and his fiancée are expecting a son in December. Williams’ fiancée also has a 7-year-old daughter the couple cares for.
Leach consistently advises players to stay in school and earn their college degree. In a text to the Spokesman-Review, he reiterated that philosophy.
“I don’t have any comments on Dickerson. His speak for themselves,” Leach said. “The NFL and I advise student athletes every year. Sometimes an agent has different advice, often for the agent’s best interest. There are a lot of sleazy agents out there that think about themselves, rather than their clients.
“We wish all of our student athletes and former student athletes the best for their futures. We will continue to advise them and encourage them to get their degrees. The NFL doesn’t tell us who to recruit and we don’t tell them who to draft.”
Williams is a good fit in Kansas City
While Williams went undrafted, two of his teammates were chosen in the 2019 draft. Offensive tackle Andre Dillard was chosen in the first round (No. 22 overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles while quarterback Gardner Minshew was picked in the sixth round (No. 178 overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As we saw with Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay last year, it’s very possible for undrafted running backs to jump in and make an immediate impact at the NFL level. Williams, a prolific pass catcher, has the skill set to fit in with the Chiefs’ brand of offense. Perhaps he will latch on as another undrafted free-agent success story and prove Leach wrong in the process.
In his three seasons with the Cougars, Williams rushed for 1,540 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per rush. He also caught a whopping 202 passes for 1,437 yards and eight scores.
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