Notre Dame Football’s Top 25 Most Important Players, No. 4: Kyren Williams
Throughout July, BlueandGold.com will feature a countdown of the 25 most pivotal figures counted on to help lead Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff in 2021.
This is not necessarily about who is the best player or the top pro prospect. It’s more along the lines of individuals that need to either emerge, remain a centerpiece or significantly elevate their production to help Irish reach that goal.
Much is based on talent and impact, but a premium is also placed on these questions: 1) If you subtracted this individual from the roster, how much of a setback would it be? 2) If this less proven player emerges and makes an impact, how much does that raise the ceiling (or lower it, if a breakout does not happen as expected)?
The players and their rankings were determined by vote from five BlueandGold.com staff members.
Next in the countdown is junior running back Kyren Williams, who collected 112 points in our poll.
Why Williams Is Ranked No. 4
Maxwell Award watch list. Doak Walker Award watch list. The first consensus top-five player to be listed in this ranking. If Williams doesn’t have your attention going into the 2021 season, well, you’ve got your eyes closed and your ears covered.
Williams has the potential to be one of the best running backs in the country. He was one of 14 backs in the nation to eclipse 1,000 yards last season. He had 1,125 on 211 carries, and he was just a true sophomore with four career carries going into the year.
Let’s not forget Notre Dame is starting someone new behind center this season too. If Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan struggles or if any other quarterback on the Irish roster has to relieve Coan for one reason or the other, Williams’ already sky high value will reach ever greater heights.
Williams' worth isn't tied just to running the rock either. He had more receptions (35) last season than any returning Notre Dame wide receiver, and he had more receiving yards (313) than every other returning wideout except for Avery Davis (322).
Williams also scored 14 touchdowns, making him only the second running back or wide receiver to enter the end zone that many times in the 11-year Brian Kelly era. Former Irish wide receiver William Fuller scored 15 in 2014 and 14 in 2015.
Williams’ Status Entering The Season
Running back No. 1. Period.
The talk during the offseason has centered on how to get running back No. 2, sophomore Chris Tyree, more involved in the offense. And that is understandable. Tyree averaged more yards per carry (6.8) than Williams (5.3) last season.
It’s hard to imagine more touches for Tyree come at Williams' expense, though. How do you take touches away from someone who averaged 5.8 yards per play on 246 total opportunities, after all? If you give a guy that many chances to do something with the football and he gets more than half the yardage needed for a standard first down on average, then there are certainly worse things you could be doing offensively.
Somewhat lost in the equation but shall not be forgotten is senior running back C’Bo Flemister, who boasted a stout average of 5.2 yards per rush last season. He had more touchdowns (five) than Tyree (four), too. With Williams and Tyree set to pack a one-two punch, though, it’s hard to imagine Flemister being much more than a third option used in scant situations.
That said, it’ll be interesting to see how often Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees puts Williams on the field with either Tyree or Flemister in two-back sets. Rees has admitted this offseason that he needs to get more creative with his play calling. He has a wealth of riches in the running back room that starts with Williams and could easily trickle down through Tyree and Flemister in tandem with him.
What Would Be A Successful Individual Season?
Williams truly has the potential to win an offseason award and work his way into more routine NFL Draft consideration. Pro Football Focus released an article in June outlining the top running back prospects for next year’s draft. Williams was listed as the third "name to watch" behind PFF's top five choices and a wild card.
Williams could easily work his way into the top five with another stellar season. One thing he has going for him better than anyone else mentioned in that article? PFF labeled him the top pass-catching back of any draft-eligible running backs. NFL scouts love tailbacks who can get open and make receptions anywhere on the field.
Numbers-wise, there isn't any reason Williams won't be thinking of setting career highs across the board. Just over 1,000 yards last year? Why not try to make it 1,500. Thirteen rushing touchdowns? Fifteen is a nice, round number. Three-hundred and change receiving yards? Shoot for 500 and more than just one score through the air.
If Williams ups his production from last season, it takes pressure off Coan and Notre Dame's unproven wide receivers. And if Notre Dame's passing offense takes a step forward with Williams, then the College Football Playoff might not be too far off in the horizon after all.
So much of the Irish's offense runs through Williams. He's primed for a huge year.
Behind The Ranking
The top 25 was determined in the same manner as the Associated Press top 25. Five BlueandGold.com staff members submitted their ballots, and each position on the ballot was given a point value. The top ranking was worth 25 points, No. 2 was worth 24, No. 3 worth 23 and so on down until No. 25, which was worth one point. The players with the 25 highest point totals made the list.
Patrick Engel: 5
Tyler Horka: 1
Mike Singer: 3
Todd Burlage: 4
Steve Downey: 5
Prior Top 25 Rankings
No. 25: Jonathan Doerer
No. 24: Marist Liufau
No. 23: Drew Pyne
No. 22: Braden Lenzy
No. 21: Jayson Ademilola
No. 20: Chris Tyree
No. 19: Avery Davis
No. 18: Josh Lugg
No. 17: Houston Griffith
No. 16: Cam Hart
No. 15: Zeke Correll
No. 14: Blake Fisher
No. 13: Kurt Hinish
No. 12: Jack Kiser
No. 11: Drew White
No. 10: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa
No. 9: Kevin Austin
No. 8: Clarence Lewis
No. 7: Cain Madden
No. 6: Isaiah Foskey
No. 5: Jarrett Patterson
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