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Should the Bears take Pass-Catching​ Back James Williams to Replace Jordan Howard?

The Washington State running back would be a versatile weapon for Matt Nagy’s offense. Should the Bears target him in the late rounds?

One of the main reasons why the Chicago Bears got rid of running back Jordan Howard was his lack of receiving abilities. The Matt Nagy system clearly needs a back that can be a pass-catching threat, and there are plenty of options in this draft who fit that description.

If Ryan Pace is not just looking for a decent pass catcher, but the best pass catching back of this class, then the team may want to take a look at Washington State running back James Williams. Williams has proven that he can be the most potent offensive weapon out of the backfield in this draft. 

In the Mike Leach system at Washington State, the running back is used much more than as just a ballcarrier. The system requires the back to be able to catch the football often, and it has helped Williams develop skills that modern NFL offenses require the running back to do. However, it may have hampered his growth in other areas.

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Strengths

Great pass catcher. Williams was basically a wide receiver at Washington State, so it was required for him to learn how to catch the football effectively. He understands how to high-point the football like a true wide receiver, something that many NFL backs don’t ever do.

A guy like Williams, who is a constant threat to catch effectively, is something that a modern offense like the Bears’ could use. He may not be an every-down back, but putting him out there as a weapon could scare the opposing defense.

Much more elusive than I initially thought. When Williams is brought up, all everyone wants to talk about is his ability to catch the football. What I watched on film was a guy that has a multitude of moves that could make any defender whiff.

The Leach offense allowed Williams plenty of space to work with, so if an offense can continue to find space for him, he will be a success in the NFL. He has a great spin move that he uses to get around defenders, and his stiff arm is not bad for a guy his size.

Weaknesses

A change in the offense will be an adjustment. The air-raid offense is not something that the NFL has used much, so Williams would be entering a new style of offense when he comes in. The good news is that it seems likely that his skillset can adjust to an NFL offense, but he just doesn’t have experience in it.

It also doesn’t help him in the receiving game that a decent amount of catches he had were on patterns like swing passes. Watching his film, it seems as though he can run more of the NFL style routes, he just does not have that on tape.

He does not have the best vision. This goes with the change of the offense. In the spread offense that he was in, the designated runs lanes were obvious for him. It was fine for the system, but things will be very different when he comes to the league.

It may take him time to learn how to run with this style of offense rather than the Leach offense. A good coach will be able to teach him, but until then, he will likely be used as the receiving option in a rotation and nothing more.

The Final Verdict

The strengths and weaknesses for Williams are shorter than what I usually have, but that’s because Williams is what he is – a receiving back. If you wanted to keep it simple, the best way to describe Williams is as a great receiving back who has some potential as a runner.

If the Bears select Williams, this could mean one of two things. First, it could mean that the Bears are feeling really good about Mike Davis and believe that he can be the running back that takes plenty of the carries for the team. 

The other option is that the team is going to select or has selected another running back. The Bears have so few holes pn their roster that they could potentially take two of them. They could take one that is more of your typucal running back to add to the rotation, and one specialty back that is drafted because of a specific talent. 

That specialty back would be James Williams, because his work as a receiver is unreal. It is rare to find a running back that has amount of tape on his receiving abilities; it felt like I was scouting a wide receiver at times because of how good he is at it right now. 

In the right offense, Williams could end up being James White 2.0. He has all the pass-catching abilities that you would want out of a back like White, and if you allow him to develop his skills while part of a rotation, he could develop into a better ballcarrier.

Williams would be a very interesting addition to the Bears’ running back rotation. I believe that this offense could always use another all-around weapon, and that is what James Williams would add. 

Follow Dan on Twitter (@DanDeYoung80) for more Bears news and opinion

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