Damien Williams was fantastic in the playoffs this year for the Kansas City Chiefs. He played extremely well in the postseason last year as well. It was his play down the stretch last year that earned him a two-year extension worth around $8 million at the end of 2018. But was his performance this year good enough to be named the starter heading into next season?
Based on his success in the position, the Chiefs named Williams their RB1 before training camp in 2019. But a hamstring injury in camp slowed him down in the beginning of the season. The Chiefs signed Buffalo Bills cast off LeSean McCoy as insurance in the event Williams’ injury kept him out of too many games. The injury seemed to be an issue for Williams in the first few games of the year as he was lacking his usual explosion out of the backfield.
Williams and McCoy split carries for the first few weeks of 2019. McCoy was the more effective running back early on. Williams sustained a knee injury that kept him out of weeks 3 and 4, adding to an already frustrating start to the year. When Damien returned in week 5, he continued to share snaps with McCoy.
Andy Reid used the running back by committee approach until the week 8 loss to the Green Bay Packers. A costly fumble by McCoy in that game caused Reid to lose trust in the veteran back and his touches reduced significantly. Damien Williams was then thrust into the lead running back role.
Williams played great the first two weeks as the lead back. He rushed for 125 yards and scored a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. The following week against the Tennessee Titans, Williams had 77 rushing yards and 32 receiving. He once again looked like the back the Chiefs thought they had when they named him the starter in training camp.
In week 11, the Chiefs travelled to Mexico City to take on their division rivals the Los Angeles Chargers. Williams left the game in the 2nd quarter with a rib injury. Williams did not see the field again until week 16. Kansas City struggled to stay healthy at the position. They lost Darrel Williams for the season in Week 13 and then his replacement, Spencer Ware in week 16.
When Damien Williams returned in week 16, he looked like a completely different player. Clearly healthy once more, Williams was more explosive and powerful than he had been earlier in the year. He ran hard and kept his balance to finish off runs. No better example than both his touchdowns against the Chargers in week 17. His first TD was a rush to the left. He was hit by three Chargers and they thought he was going down; Los Angeles gave up on the play. But Williams spun out of the contact and raced 84 yards to pay dirt. His second TD was even more impressive. At the Chargers 9-yard line, the Chiefs ran a sweep to the right. Williams was hit low at the 4-yard line and it looked like he was going down. He put his hand on the ground while his knees were on the defender, pushed himself up and dove for the endzone.
Williams exhibited the same kind of tenacity in the playoffs. He was a scoring machine with 6 TDs in the postseason. He usually celebrated after making a big play, similar to teammate Travis Kelce. The team responded to his celebrations and one big play from Williams was often a spark for the Chiefs offense. This happened several times in the playoffs and the credit for those pivotal momentum shifts could easily go to Williams.
Unfortunately, Damien Williams was slowed this year by multiple injuries. It is not clear how he will hold up to a full season as a lead back in the NFL. If Williams can stay healthy next year, he can be a dangerous weapon in this offense. He runs hard and gives maximum effort. He is deadly out of the backfield and LBs have no chance against his speed. He is confident and provides a spark to the team when the offense starts slowly. Based on his performance this year in the playoffs, Damien Williams has certainly earned the right to be RB1 for the Chiefs next season.