FSU coach Jimbo Fisher sees the steps Karlos Williams is taking as he adjusts to new role as the team's top running back.

FSU RB Karlos Williams’ first college carry was simple enough.

A toss to the right resulted in a 65-yard touchdown in the third quarter against Nevada last season. The blocking was precise, but Williams was electric. He effortlessly burst through the crease in front of him and went untouched for the score.

The one play exemplifies Williams’ raw potential. The speed, the power, the fluidity. All these factors combined give FSU fans hope that Williams is ready to step into his role as the Seminoles’ feature back in 2014.

At a first glance, Williams has given off every indication that he is ready to have a breakout year. First there’s the physical skill set, which rivals that of any running back in FSU’s recent history. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, a runner shouldn’t be able to move as gracefully or accelerate like he does.

Then there’s the production: 731 rushing yards on 91 carries and 11 touchdowns. Williams averaged a touchdown every 8.2 times for every carry and averaged 8 yards per run. If he had that production with the amount of carries feature back Devonta Freeman had last year (173), Williams would have had 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.  No FSU back has ever surpassed 1,250 rushing yards.

There is a common belief that those numbers will be obtainable for Williams, which is understandable when watching the way he blends speed and power.

But it should be far from a foregone conclusion that Williams will burst into FSU’s record books with ease in 2014. Williams, who moved from safety to running back at the beginning of last season, had the luxury of beating up on winded defenses most of last season and emerged as a goal-line specialist. He did not become a consistent part of FSU’s true running rotation until later in the year, making it difficult to project what he is fully capable of. Is Williams talented enough to become an elite back? Absolutely. But can he continue his domination while taking the physical toll that comes with being an every-down runner?  And how will he do when facing fresh starting defenders? Those variables are not as easy to account for.

Meaningful Carries

Being a feature back means a runner will be called upon to get a majority of the carries from the game’s onset. Elite feature backs get better as the game goes on as they wear down defenses.

With that in mind, there are two important factors to consider that will prove useful when projecting Williams’ production in 2014: 1.) How did Williams do when facing defenses on the same level as him in terms of fatigue? 2.) How did Williams do when being used as more than a rotational back?

Williams is largely unproven in both regards.  He has willingly admitted that he had the luxury of entering games fresh after Freeman and James Wilder Jr. usually softened up defenses, but he is also quick to point out that he did get important carries against Duke in the ACC Championship Game and against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game.

Simply put, Williams did not have many meaningful carries last year. Because of that, it’s not easy to judge how he will handle the responsibility of shouldering an offense or coming up with tough runs when needed.

It would be easy to see what Williams did against starting defenses if measuring just his first-half carries, but Williams has a frustratingly small sample size in this case. Especially in the first quarter, in which he ran the ball five times for 20 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, Freeman had 56 attempts in the first quarter – 32 percent of his total carries – and ran for 370 yards (6.61 YPC) and 5 touchdowns.

To get a clear idea of what Williams did when having more of a feature role, we begin by eliminating carries in which Williams does not enter the game until the second half. Already, that takes away games against Nevada (110 rushing yards and 1 TD on 8 carries), Bethune-Cookman (83 rushing yards, 2 TDs on 9 carries), Boston College (22 rushing yards, 1 TD on 6 carries), Clemson (19 rushing yards on 3 carries), Syracuse (78 rushing yards on 4 carries) and Florida (14 yards on 4 carries).

So that puts Williams at 404 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on 57 carries. Those numbers are still significant, putting Williams on pace to rush for 1,226 yards (7.08 YPC) if he gets the same amount of carries Freeman had last year.

On a related note, let’s see what Williams does in close games: This is an important trait in a feature back, because establishing a strong run game can establish or shift momentum. For instance, Freeman was at his best when the score was tied or FSU was up by 14 points or less: 543 yards and 8 TDs on 81 carries (6.7 YPC).

Williams has 83 rushing yards and 4 TDs on 17 carries (4.88 YPC) when FSU was up by 14 points or less. Again, a small sample size hurts a true analysis, but his yard per carry average takes a significant dip, although his touchdown-to-carry ratio skyrockets to 1:4.25. Both the drop in yards per carry and the increase of scores per carry are a direct result of him running the ball in the red zone on nearly half (47 percent) of those carries. The sample size still makes it difficult to get a read on just how effective he is when getting meaningful carries.

What we can deduce, however, is that Williams did come through when given the opportunity. He scored touchdowns effectively in the red zone and played well in games where he was touching the ball early. In fact, he outperformed both Freeman and James Wilder Jr. when it came to scoring in the red zone.

FSU Running Back Red Zone Efficiency

Category

Karlos Williams

Devonta Freeman

James Wilder Jr.

Carries Inside Red Zone

21

39

24

RZ Touchdowns

9

13

7

RZ TD % per carry

42.8 %

33.3 %

29.1 %