Take 2: Is Williams among nation's best?

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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Florida State opens spring practice in just two weeks, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those weighty discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

On Monday, we looked at Jameis Winston’s follow-up to his Heisman season.

Next up: Will Karlos Williams emerge as one of the nation’s top runners?

Jared Shanker says Williams still has some work to do.

JS: There is no denying Williams’ physical traits. There is no argument from me that Williams is capable of being one of the most dominant running backs in the ACC and possibly the country.

I just need to see it first.

Considering his preseason switch from safety to running back, the 6-foot-1, 223-pound Williams did just about everything you could ask of him. He rushed for more than eight yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns serving as Devonta Freeman's and James Wilder Jr.'s backup.

Therein lies the issue for me: He was No. 3 on the Noles’ depth chart last season.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
Jeff Gammons/Getty ImagesFSU's Karlos Williams has all the tools, but can the former safety become one of the ACC's -- and the nation's -- best running backs?
As a converted safety, I would not expect Williams to jump Freeman or Wilder, and it speaks to the kind of player Williams is to still put up the numbers he did despite minimal collegiate experience at the position. He would not be the first complementary running back to move into a starting role and fail to reach heightened expectations. There is a difference between rushing seven or eight times in the second half when opponents have already accepted defeat compared to rushing against the No. 1 units of Oklahoma State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida. Clemson and Florida have two of the best defensive lines in the country, and Notre Dame has loaded up on the defensive front the last few recruiting classes.

If Williams rushes for more than 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns, I would not be surprised at all. Few players across the country are in the category of elite athlete Williams belongs to. It is just too early to already pencil Williams in for All-ACC honors with so few meaningful snaps in his career.

David Hale says Williams is ready to become a superstar.

DH: No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference last season had at least as many carries as Williams (91) and ran for more yards per rush (8.02). No running back in the country from any school had as many carries and scored with more regularity (a TD every 8.3 rushes) than Williams. And, it’s probably fair to say, no running back in the country opened 2013 with higher expectations from fans -- as a safety.

Such was the journey of the one-time five-star recruit in his junior season, which began at safety and ended with 730 rushing yards and the designation among many FSU fans as the Seminoles’ next great tailback.

From his first career carry -- a 65-yard touchdown against Nevada -- it was obvious Williams had star potential on offense. It was actually something Jimbo Fisher saw years before, but it took some convincing to push Williams to make the move from defense. And when he did, Williams was stuck behind two NFL-caliber runners on the depth chart, meaning the bulk of his work in 2013 came in the latter half of blowouts.

But that shouldn’t diminish what’s possible. Williams might have racked up yards against backups, but he also did it behind second-string linemen. He might have had just 18 first-half rushing attempts all season, but he also scored on three of them. He might have largely been a straight-line runner when he got the ball, but that didn’t make it any easier for defenders to bring him down.

Now with Freeman and Wilder gone, it’s Williams who figures to take over the FSU ground game. Given that he’ll be playing with a Heisman-winning quarterback and an offensive line likely to have five senior starters, the expectations are high for good reason. He’s got all the physical tools to be a star, and he has plenty of stars already surrounding him on offense.

So what’s the ceiling for Williams? If he maintains his 2013 average over the same number of carries Freeman got last season, he would finish 2014 with nearly 1,400 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Of course, maintaining those numbers will be difficult against stiffer competition, but remember that Williams will now have a full year of experience at the position under his belt when 2014 begins. And while he’s likely to endure more bumps and bruises in a larger role, he’ll also have a chance to get into a routine, to wear defenders down with his unique blend of size and speed.

In other words, the question marks surrounding Williams are largely about when he played in 2013, but there’s no doubt that what he did once he got on the field was spectacular. This season, Williams will get every chance to prove it was no fluke, and if he reaches those projected totals, Winston won’t be the only Heisman contender on Florida State’s offense.

Jared Shanker

Florida State/ACC reporter

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