Diminutive Williams defies odds as NFL running back

December 14, 2017 GMT
Arizona Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams (33) gets upended by Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson (25) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec.10, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams (33) gets upended by Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson (25) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec.10, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Kerwynn Williams has defied the odds, over and over.

Consistently told he was too small, Williams kept working, from practice squad, to being released, to practice squad again and to the active roster.

“That’s pretty much what I’ve relied on my whole life,” Williams said after the Arizona Cardinals practiced Wednesday. “I feel like everybody’s seen the same thing. Everybody’s looked at me seeing I’m not tall. I’m not the biggest guy out there so I relied on my work ethic to get me through.”

Nobody is doubting his toughness.


The last two games, he played despite having cracked ribs. Against the Los Angeles Rams, he gained 97 yards in 16 carries. In last week’s win over Tennessee, Williams rushed for 73 yards in 20 attempts.

How many ribs are cracked?

“Enough,” he said.

After coaching Williams for four seasons, coach Bruce Arians said he is not surprised.

“This is what we expected,” Arians said. “That’s why he’s here. He couldn’t catch punts two years ago to save his life, but he catches them really good now. That’s just Kerwynn. Whatever it takes for him to make the team, he’s going to do it, but then when he makes it and you put him out there, you’re getting his best.”

Williams is listed as 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds. That lack of size was undoubtedly a reason he wasn’t drafted until the seventh round by Indianapolis out of Utah State in 2013.

He played in one game for the Colts and spent most of the season on the San Diego practice squad. In his first 21 months in the NFL, Williams was subject to 15 roster moves. He was signed, released and promoted from the practice squad seven times in 2014, including four roster moves in a span of 21 days with the Cardinals.

He never wavered in his effort.

“Your work ethic is really the only thing you can control,” Williams said. “You can’t control the decisions other people make. I just believed the only thing I was focusing on is outworking everybody, outworking the doubt really, outworking everybody’s doubt in me.”

Arians attributes Williams’ perseverance to “his grit.”

“He got cut a number of times,” Arians said. “He kept getting a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, really worked on his hands. That was a problem early on in his career. Really worked on his hands, found his niche in kick returns. ‘The more you can do.’ He bought in to ‘the more you can do.’”

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert said Williams has become a complete back.


“We all know he can run the football, but seeing blitzes, picking up protections, catching the ball out of the backfield, just being kind of that total running back that you want to see,” Gabbert said. “But, just the way he has been running the football lately, getting through that initial line of defenders, getting in the linebacking corps, making some moves, getting into the secondary and really just keeping our offense ahead of the chains.”

There is no sign that Adrian Peterson’s return from a neck injury is imminent. Expect Williams to be the featured back again when the Cardinals play at Washington on Sunday.

He by no means feels he has it made.

“I feel like when you get to the point where you’ve done all you could do, that you’ve proven everything, that’s when I feel like you rest and you start to relax,” Williams said. “I never feel that way. I never feel like I’m safe. I always feel like I need to keep working and that’s the mindset I’m always going to have.”

There is, though, a sense of satisfaction of making it in this rough game the hard way.

“When you have to work for things in life I think it does make you appreciate things a lot more,” he said. “You realize that all you put in to get to that point, you don’t want to lose it. So you work that much harder to keep yourself in that position. I feel that’s what hard work does, and the cream rises to the top.”

Williams has rushed for 784 yards in 162 carries in four seasons with Arizona, an average of 4.8 yards per carry.

Notes: After losing starting left tackle Jared Veldheer to a season-ending ankle injury, the Cardinals signed veteran tackle Khalif Barnes. The 11-year NFL veteran has played in 151 games, 116 starts, with Jacksonville and Oakland. He was with New Orleans last season but did not play in any games. Rookie Will Holden will start at left tackle Sunday.


For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL