By Matt Derrick
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the Chiefs needed to close out their Week 3 win over the Baltimore Ravens, they didn’t put the ball in the hands of veterans Sammy Watkins or LeSean McCoy. They didn’t even turn to upstart rookies Mecole Hardman or Darwin Thompson.
No, they turned to they guy the call Mr. Consistent, second-year running back Darrel Williams, with all of 29 touches for 164 yards in his NFL career up to that point.
“The kid, he has no fear in what he does,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “There’s no stage that’s too big for him.”
When the Chiefs built their running back group for 2018, they had no doubts about installing Damien Williams as the de facto starter. They viewed Williams as the leader of a committee, even before welcoming LeSean McCoy into the fold a week before the season opener. That backfield vision always included Darrel Williams, who head coach Andy Reid views buying into the Chiefs way of doing things.
“He’s just kind of Mr. Consistent and tough,” Reid said. “He’s a smart kid, so he knows everything protection-wise that’s going on.”
That’s exactly the role Williams played in college. He shared a backfield with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice at LSU. He rushed for 1,651 yards in four college seasons with 19 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He added another 462 yards receiving on 38 catches, giving him more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage despite never being “The Guy.” He carried that lunch-pail mentality with him to Kansas City, running backs coach Deland McCullough said.
“He’s been somebody who’s just been keeping his head down and working hard,” McCullough said. “He showed an upper-level mentality when he got here during his rookie season and made some plays during last season.”
That determination and work ethic told Bieniemy what kind of NFL back Williams could become.
“When (LSU) needed him to do something, guess what he did?” Bieniemy asked. “He provided a play. Well, think about it last year. When we asked him to step into certain roles, he did a heck of a job, just like he did this past weekend. Not shocked, not surprised.
”Williams grew more comfortable as undrafted rookie last season – he even scored a touchdown against Indianapolis in the team’s Divisional Playoff win. He changed his diet and workout routine during the offseason, sculpting his body from a 5-11, 224-pound back with a little body fat into leaner, more muscular 218 pounds.
“I feel much faster and much quicker coming out of my cuts and my breaks,” Williams said.
That increased athleticism further bolstered the coaching staff’s belief in Williams. With Damien Williams sideline last week, it was the younger Darrel running with the first-team offense during warmups against Baltimore last week. He rewarded that faith with a breakout performance against the Ravens, rushing for 62 yards on nine carries and catching five passes 47 yards.
He saved his best for last with the Chiefs facing a third-and-9 at their own 37-yard line with 1:51 to play. The Chiefs called his number on a daring screen play. Williams had only one thought on his mind.
“I got to get the first, because I know if I get this first I seal the deal, our defense doesn’t have to go back out there and the game is over, we win the game,” he said.
Williams explained he knew he had the first down before Patrick Mahomes delivered him the ball.
“When I stepped up, I waited on the linebacker to see what he was going to do,” Williams said. “He actually blitzed and the defensive end dropped back. Once they did that, I said it’s over with it, first down. Pat threw the ball and got the first down.”
Bieniemy said he believed in Williams because he says the player has faith in himself.
“If you talk to Darrel, Darrel would tell you he can do it all,” Bieniemy said. “I’ve been told that quite a few times by Darrel. Whatever role you want him to step into, that’s the role that he’s going to assume and that’s the role he will play.”
The emergence of Williams becomes more important with Damien Williams missing this week’s game at Detroit. The Chiefs don’t want the 31-year-old McCoy to carry the burden of serving as the featured back. McCullough said the club looks for opportunities to keep everyone in the backfield fresh by not beating them up too much in practice of in games. They hope to remain at full strength by the time January arrives.
“We like to spread it around a little bit and with the advantage of having some depth and some other guys that can help us and not having to really rely on one guy, that’s been pretty positive for us up to this point,” McCullough said.
McCullough said having depth from both Williams and the rookie Thompson puts a smile on the face of McCoy, who relishes playing a supporting role in the running back by committee.
“He knows that he doesn’t have to be the lead guy 100 percent of the time, he knows he’s sitting in a room with a bunch of guys that can play,” McCullough said.
Williams also fully understands what it means when coaches call him Mr. Consistent, and hopes to continue earning that monicker.
“I know, coach has been calling me that ever since I got here, Mr. Consistent,” Williams said. “That’s something I try to take pride in, trying to do everything right. Each and ever day trying to come out here and get better and not have any bad days, just trying to be consistent.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.