Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back

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Listed measurements: 5-foot-9, 195 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: As a junior coming off the pandemic, Williams has four seasons of eligibility left, but no one should expect him to use more than one of them.
Depth Chart: Notre Dame will run its offense through Williams more than anyone else, at least as the starting running back and likely also as a receiving option in two-back sets paired with sophomore Chris Tyree.
Recruiting: The rivals.com three-star considered Michigan and his homestate Missouri as he chose the Irish, also holding offers from Wisconsin and Stanford, among others.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
When Williams posted prices going up in 2021 in February, he meant literally. A Cameo — a personalized video message directly from Williams — costs $49 currently, a number that he could certainly raise this fall. At that point, suffice it to say his hard work will begin paying off.

CAREER TO DATE
A dropped pass in his freshman season opener in his first action cost Williams any 2019 faith from then offensive coordinator Chip Long. He made four total appearances that year, but he was entirely an afterthought, despite having made good impressions as an early enrollee that spring.

And then came 2020. A preseason spent behind closed doors meant no one saw Williams’ explosion coming, aside from those inside the program. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insisted Williams was primed for a breakout, but his preseason praise was met as, well, preseason praise.

If anything, Kelly understated what was coming. Williams ran for 1,125 yards in 12 games, scoring 13 touchdowns and adding one more through the air on 35 catches for 313 yards.

Most notably, Williams gave the Irish a lead on the first official snap against No. 1 Clemson in November.

2019: 4 games; 4 carries for 26 yards with one catch for 3 yards.
2020: 12 games; 211 carries for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns — a 5.33 yards per rush average — with 35 catches for 313 yards and one touchdown.

QUOTE
One could be forgiven for looking at Williams’ 2020 and thinking there was little to improve upon and thus expecting more of the same. After all, his pass blocking made Williams a social media sensation as much as LeBron James noting his opening touchdown against the Tigers. Williams covered all facets.

But he expects to improve in at least one area in 2021.

“There’s nothing I’m perfect at, my vision on the football field, keep on excelling on the field — see now holes,” Williams said in mid-April. “Really just leave people like, ‘How did you even see that?’ That’s my main goal as a running back, leave people guessing and wondering how he was even able to make that cut. Just doing those things and being consistent every day is going to allow me to get my vision better.”

With an offensive line replacing four starters and moving the fifth to a new position, Williams may need improved vision in 2021.

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2021 OUTLOOK
If there is any reason to doubt Williams, it is because of the revamped offensive line, but it is by no means a subpar line now. It returns one starter, two more with starting experience and adds an All-American in Marshall graduate transfer guard Cain Madden. Give that line time to gel and Williams could be once again avoiding contact for about half his yards. (In 2020, Williams gained 696 of his rushing yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.) The first three weeks of the Irish schedule, in particular, should give some cushion for that learning curve. (More Florida State slander will follow between now and Labor Day Eve, in 55 days.)

The last time Notre Dame replaced such a sizable chunk of its offensive line, Dexter Williams ran for 995 yards in only nine games in 2018. His style differed from the present Williams’ (no relation), but by no means should the latter’s speed be overly knocked in this comparison.

Kyren’s stats will differ from Dexter’s in part because the deep-reserve for the Green Bay Packers has never been a viable factor in the passing game — receiving or blocking — while Kyren and sophomore Chris Tyree will both dabble as receivers in 2021. So rather than extrapolate 995 yards over nine games into 1,400 rushing yards this season, look at Kyren’s final collegiate year as a “yards from scrimmage” exercise.

He gained 1,438 last year in 12 games; expect 1,600 in 2021, breaking Josh Adams’ Kelly-era record set in 2017.

DOWN THE ROAD
There may not be a draft evaluation low enough to suggest Williams should not head to the NFL after this season, and considering he offers the entire package — running, receiving and pass blocking — his draft evaluation should not be lower than a mid-round grade in a worst-case scenario.

Running back shelf lives are simply too short to put off the NFL earnings. Even if able to turn a third-round grade into a second-round grade with an additional year, Williams would make up that earnings bump by getting to his second contract sooner, and no running back should assume more than two contracts at the next level.

Furthermore, 2021 will feature Williams, considering Notre Dame’s uncertainty at receiver and the general opinions around quarterback Jack Coan’s ability (or lack thereof) to elevate the passing game single-handedly. This will be the best year for Williams to showcase himself and then capitalize on that with earnings greater than some video game contests and Cameo dispersals.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety