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Boom Williams Should Turn Pro Early

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Mark Stoops’ first deserved three-and-done.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Louisville
Boom Williams doesn’t like knee pads apparently. Kids think they’re invincible smh.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put, Stanley “Boom” Williams has nothing left to prove at the college level, and should enter his name into the NFL Draft.

Why should one of UK’s best weapons, if not the single best, leave the program prior to a promising 2017 season? Well, first off, the interests of individual players don’t always align with the interests of the wider team, nor the fans for that matter. Speaking of which, it’s tempting for those of us in armchairs to be biased in this situation.

A few other reasons: his collegiate production, the inherent risks involved in returning, he compares well against his late round competition, and the new NFL collective bargaining agreement is favorable to rookies in the mid- and late-rounds.

Allow me to expound. I think the first argument we can all agree upon.

Williams’ Production Warrants It...

2014: 10 games, 486 yards, 6.57 yards/carry, 7 carries/game, and five touchdowns.

2015: 10 games, 855 yards, 7.07 yards/carry, 12 carries/game, and six touchdowns.

2016: 12 games, 1135 yards, 7.09 yards/carry, 13 carries/game, and seven touchdowns.

Williams improved his production every season in Lexington even if one projects his 2014 and 2015 numbers for 12 games. During this time, UK never had real deep ball threats to force defenses to diversify their game plans. They were geared towards stopping UK’s rushing attack, and Williams was it’s leading rusher even before the offensive line gelled in late 2016.

Putting these numbers in a wider perspective, Williams finished 2016 ranked fifth in rushing in the SEC, despite the fact he finished 10th in total attempts. A good comparison, in terms of “low attempts to high production” to Williams is LSU running back Derrick Guice in 2016. Williams’ “bargain ratio” has been consistent. In 2015, he finished 10th in total yards in the SEC but was 15th in total attempts.

From a national perspective, Williams finished 39th in the country in rushing yards, but was 76th in total attempts. This consequently ranks him 11th overall in yards per carry for those with at least 100 carries.

Williams production easily makes him a top ten running back in the country in terms of production if based on draft eligibility this year.

What Williams Would Risk By Returning...

Williams is currently listed as 5’9’’ 196 pounds. If he stayed in Lexington one more season, he would not get taller nor gain much more weight. There will be no sudden growth spurts that captures the imagination of NFL scouts. Physically, he is what he is, and he’ll always be two inches short of being an early round selection.

Williams also has a history of injuries. This isn’t to say he’s injury-prone necessarily - he has only missed four games in three seasons - but it’s a factor worth considering. Every running back is different, but their careers are all measured in carries. The window to make a healthy salary is narrow for NFL players, but it’s even narrower for NFL running backs. Why come back for another unpaid season in which his corporeal form would accumulate more damage?

He Stands A Solid Chance To Get Drafted...

The 2017 NFL Draft class is top-heavy. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and D’Onta Foreman will garner early selections. After those players the talent gap decreases, and Williams compares favorably with the rest of the pack in terms of production.

He’ll have to prove he compares favorably in terms of measurables at the combine and UK’s Pro Day, but I strongly suspect his 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, and cone drill times will be favorable to the competition, according to his explosiveness in games the last three falls. After all, in 2016 he ranked second in the SEC in runs of 20 yards or more, and was top five in runs of 10 yards or more. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t perform well in those drills if he comes in healthy.

Williams would not be an every down back in the NFL given his size, but that would be a factor for Williams even if he stays his senior season and enters the 2018 draft. Other small running backs like NC State’s Matthew Dayes and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey haven’t dissuaded mock drafts from 4th-7th round projections. Smaller running backs do, and will, get drafted.

Williams will have to separate himself from this tier. It’s not a foregone conclusion, but there are reasons for optimism.

The NFL Needs Explosive Backs...

Williams projects as a situational running back, or specifically, a back on passing downs. He could run between the tackles on a draw when a defense has been spread out, slip outside for a screen, or be the quarterback’s “safety valve”. Williams has a proven track record of explosive plays against SEC competition, as noted above, which is the defining trait of this role.

Being situational was enough for players like Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen, and James White to build NFL careers among others. These players are both explosive and reliable pass-catchers. There will be an incentive to draft players like Williams by pass-happy teams like the Saints, Patriots, and others barring a sudden revolution in offensive philosophy. He may even find a role on a special teams return unit; though, he was never featured that way at UK, but it’s unclear if that was out of necessity or design.

Encouragingly, Williams catch rate was 78% in 2016 which is higher than 2015 when his catch rate was only 58%. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran featured Williams less - all of UK’s running backs, really - in the passing game relative to his predecessor. At UK’s Pro Day, Williams would have to prove adept at catching the ball as that could go a long way to determining his future.

The CBA Is Kind To Later Draft Picks...

Williams won’t be drafted in all likelihood prior to the fourth or fifth round this draft or next. That’s not altogether a bad thing. Any rookie drafted gets a mandatory four year contract. The four year minimum base salaries for players in the 2016 draft was: $450,000 (rookie season), $525,000 (Year 2), $600,000 (Year 3), $675,000 (Year 4). Williams would probably not have his contract guaranteed, but he would probably never get that deal next season either unless he’s drafted in the first two rounds. That is just the base salary too. It could be higher, and even 7th round picks receive signing bonuses.

If Boom were to go undrafted, he could still eventually make a team and sign as a free agent. His salary would remain the same as any player who was drafted, but again, his contract would likely not be guaranteed. Still, he’d make a little over $450,000 (assuming the rookie pay pool increases in 2017) in his first year after college. Not a bad nest egg to begin adulthood if he can make a roster.

Even if Boom doesn’t make a roster, he’d stand a chance with a NFL practice squad. This would pay him a minimum of $7,000 per week translating to $117,000 for the season. Some teams pay players more than that per week, and he’d be eligible to sign as a free agent while on a practice squad. Here’s more background on practice squads.

TL;DR...

Williams has proven all he can at the collegiate level, and there are far more risks than advantages to returning for his senior season as his stock will not increase appreciably. He’s earned the right to be compensated for his labor - if that’s what he wants.