Every NFL team has 53 active players, as well as 10 players on the practice squad. Assuming no injuries, 63 players make up a complete NFL roster. While the First and Second round picks get most of the press, the majority of the roster is made through the late rounds of the draft, as well as finding undrafted free agents to contribute . This is where NFL scouts make their reputations and money, by finding the diamonds in the rough in the late rounds and free agency. Players like Priest Holmes, Rod Smith, and Vontaze Burfict were all undrafted, and have made huge impacts in the league. Every year, less heralded players from FCS, Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA schools are selected or signed to NFL training camps and end up making rosters and practice squads.
One of the top players in Division 3 this past season was Carroll University Runningback Lamont Williams, a 5’8″ 210 pound homerun threat out of the backfield, as well as an electric return man. Williams, a Philadelphia, PA native, capped off his 3 year career at Carroll as the most prolific scorer in school history, and set 13 school records along the way. But this wasn’t the likely destination coming out of Richmond High School in Rockingham, North Carolina for Lamont.
After moving south from Philadelphia, Williams was a part of the highly successful Richmond program, often playing against future college and NFL players. The highly athletic Williams was utilized in many capacities, taking snaps at Quarterback, Runningback, Wide Receiver, and Linebacker and Defensive Back on defense. Despite his various responsibilities, his coach envisioned Williams as a Runningback in the future, the best way to get the ball in the playmaker’s hands at a high volume.
After receiving interest from Eastern Carolina, North Carolina State, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, as well as multiple HBC schools, Williams decided to attend Iowa Wesleyan College, a then NAIA school in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. His High School coach had since accepted a coaching position at the school and felt as though Williams could succeed there. After redshirting his first year at IWC, he decided to move closer to home, and accepted a scholarship to North Carolina A&T. After attending Spring Ball practices in Greensboro, a coaching change led to Williams being released from his scholarship, and Williams would be out of football for almost a year and a half.
Fast forward to August 2012; Williams returned to school and football at Carroll University, a quaint private institution in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Williams provided the Pioneers with a difference maker on offense that they needed, and he contributed in a big way. In 9 games, Williams ran for 1267 yards and 24 Touchdowns, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, including a 38 carry, 306 yard, six TD effort in the season finale. He lead the Pioneers to an 8-2 record, and took the league by storm. However, Williams was just getting started.
In 2013, in 8 games, Williams ran for a career high 1316 yards and 6.8 yards per carry, adding 14 touchdowns. He really shouldered the offensive load, aiding an offense with a struggling passing attack. Williams saved arguably his best for last in his senior campaign, leading the conference with 1261 yards rushing, and 21 touchdowns, 6.6 yards per carry. He also hauled in 10 receptions for 108 yards, with some pivotal 3rd down conversions in big wins over Monmouth and St. Norbert. Williams also made himself more versatile, returning kicks consistently for the first time at Carroll. He quickly established himself as an elite returner by leading the nation in return touchdowns, with 3. This is even more impressive, considering he only had 11 returns, as teams often avoided the dangerous return man. He also averaged 34.7 yards per return. Williams gave the Pioneers a long range threat, scoring on plays of 50, 52, 55, 60, 60, 67, 70, 72, 73, 81, 83, 87, 90, and 96 yards throughout his career.
Williams was a vital contributor on the field for the Pioneers, but he was just as important off of the field. When asked about his strengths, he pointed to his leadership ability and willingness to assist the younger players on the roster, as they’re the future of the program. Williams also stated that his most memorable accomplishment at Carroll wasn’t any of his 13 school records, rather that he “prides himself on being a part of a great group of guys that fought trough adversity and were all striving for one goal.” He also was very quick to credit his Offensive Line and the rest of the offense for his success. When asked about a player who he patterns his game after, he immediately cited Barry Sanders as a major influence, especially with the size similarities, as well as their desire to extend plays. Although he likes to think he excels in all aspects of his game, he identified pass blocking as a potential weak spot, not for his inability or unwillingness to do so, rather a lack of opportunities in the Pioneers Pro-Style Read offense. When asked about what an NFL team would receive for signing him, he responded: “A talented person, willing to be first in, last out. Eager and ready to learn from players ahead of him, willing to do anything to win.”
Williams is a long shot to be drafted in this year’s deep and talented Runningback class. In a class featuring Melvin Gordon III, who just rushed for the second highest total amount of yards in a season in NCAA Division 1 history, as well as Todd Gurley and Tevin Coleman, among a plethora of other talented backs. Williams’ best shot at being noticed is participating in a local Pro Day, such as at Northwestern, or in Madison at the University of Wisconsin. Williams is attempting to be the third Midwest Conference player to make an NFL roster in the past 4 years. Alex Tanney, a Quarterback from Monmouth College, as well as Derek Carrier, a Wide Receiver turned Tight End from Beloit College are on NFL rosters, with the Titans and 49ers respectively.
Williams brings a versatile skill set to the table, as the 5’8″ runner has a low center of gravity, and because of this he breaks a lot of tackles, as defenders are often out-leveraged by him. He displayed breakaway speed at the Division 3 level, which won’t necessarily be break away speed in the NFL, but is certainly adequate enough to compete. He’ll most likely run the 40 yard dash in the high 4.4 to low 4.5 range. His versatility will also make it harder for Williams to get cut in a training camp, as his kick return prowess gives him multiple ways to contribute to the team. More than likely, barring an incredible Pro Day performance, Williams will be undrafted in this April’s draft, however it is much more likely that Williams will be given his opportunity, and depending on what he does with that opportunity will determine how long he sticks around.
Williams is one of hundreds of lower level players looking for his big break, his opportunity. Every year players from lower levels make rosters, start, come off the bench, and contribute to NFL teams. It will definitely be interesting to see where Lamont ends up come May 2nd.