The Tennessee rushing attack was good under Josh Heupel in year one, but it also probably left a little meat on the bone, too. That, in large part, was due to key injuries at the running back position.
Jabari Small wasn’t healthy all season, and it’s not exactly clear what was going on with Tiyon Evans throughout the year. This left plenty of work for true freshman Jaylen Wright, who frankly, likely wasn’t in the plans as an every down back. However, due to numbers, he was forced into that role multiple times throughout the season.
Now Evans is officially gone, which is unfortunate considering how much he seemed to elevate the offense as a whole. Tennessee will return Small and Wright, but they badly needed to replace some of the explosiveness vacated by Evans.
Justin Williams might just be that guy. The four-star running back out of Georgia ditched his West Virginia commitment and signed with Tennessee weeks later, giving the Volunteers some much needed depth at the position. Williams also runs track, and that athletic ability is on display on his highlight film.
What he brings
The 6-0, 205 pound running back just missed a 2,000 yard season as a senior, running for 1,956 yards. He added another 190 receiving.
As a runner, the first thing that stood out to me was his vision. Williams made several plays by simpying making the correct read and finding daylight. He didn’t dance, just stuck a foot in the ground and got up field. Another impressive element was his burst to capitalize on that daylight. Williams ate up angles from safeties coming downhill, which created several big plays.
Williams has a strong lower half, strong enough to shed arm tackles. He runs with really nice leg churn as well, working to get those extra 2-3-4 yards when possible. Though he’s not the biggest back you’ll see, he’s tough. You’ll see defenders bounce off of him and struggle to bring him down on first effort.
East Paulding used him quite a bit in the screen game, capitalizing on his burst, speed and vision in the open field. Williams brings a little bit of everything to the table.
Where does he fit on the roster?
It’s easy to see a path to playing time quickly for Williams, considering the state of the running backs room currently at Tennessee. Jabari Small is a fine player and Jaylen Wright has some explosiveness to him, but neither offer the overall upside of Williams.
I’d expect Williams to push to crack the rotation quickly, perhaps battling with Jaylen Wright for that RB2 role right off the bat. Williams will arrive in January and go through spring practice with the team, so we should get an idea of where he’s at fairly quickly.
Williams is one of my personal favorites in the class, and I think he has a real opportunity to elevate this offense quickly.