Due to the pandemic canceling the 2020 preseason, Baltimore Ravens’ second-year running back Ty’Son Williams didn’t have an opportunity to play himself into roster contention as an undrafted free agent rookie last year.
It is nearly impossible for undrafted rookies, even the priority ones, to make a team based on their performance in practice alone. Since they’re at or near the bottom of the depth chart, the starters and more established players get the bulk of the reps because they are locks to make the roster more often than not.
That means that players like the former North Carolina/South Carolina/BYU product need big performances in the preseason in a non-COVID year or an injury to someone ahead of them in order to make the final cut and even both might not be enough sometimes.
The odds were stacked against Williams’ chances to make the team as a rookie even before the preseason was canceled. The Ravens were very deep at running back heading into last season with veteran Mark Ingram fresh off a Pro Bowl season, a rookie J.K. Dobbins who will be the featured back going forward, Gus ‘The Bus’ Edwards, and a rising sophomore in Justice Hill who showed flashes in limited opportunities during his first season.
There almost weren’t enough carries to go around at the start of last season in the Ravens’ backfield because quarterback Lamar Jackson is a big part of the running game. Even after returning from an ankle injury, Ingram saw his role on offense reduced significantly and he was inactive for two of the final three games of the regular season as well both playoff games. Hill was inactive for three of the first four games and relegated to a primarily special teams role for the rest of the year.
Williams spent his entire rookie year on the practice squad outside one game where he got called up but didn’t play. The Ravens signed him to a Reserve/Futures contract after their season ended in the divisional round of the playoffs again.
Heading into his second training camp with the team, Williams was being viewed as a longshot to make the team again. However, that may not be the case for much longer if he continues to stand out in practice and show out in preseason play over the next two weeks like has during the last couple.
Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 of the preseason, Williams had quite the debut. He rushed for 41 yards on 10 carries, led the team in receptions with five for 23 yards, and scored the two-point conversion to extend the Ravens’ lead to three points in the final minutes of the game.
Ty’Son Williams has now firmly entered the RB3 conversation in Baltimore pic.twitter.com/a82pWDbM10— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) August 15, 2021
His impressive performance this past Saturday firmly pulled him within striking distance if not ahead of Hill in what many didn’t believe would be a competition for the third and likely final running back spot on the depth chart. It also marked his first time playing in an actual game since he tore his ACL just four games into his senior season.
“It felt good,” Williams said after the game. “First time getting back in live-action since I went down with my injury, so it just felt good to get back out there, and I had fun playing ball with the guys.”
He has carried that momentum over into practice and with the extra reps that he’s earned, he has been showing off his physicality both as a runner and pass protector. According to one report, he “pancaked a Panthers blitzing linebacker.”
As a runner, Williams shows pile-driving power with his legs, good vision, and quick feet to find and hit cutback lanes. He looks like a natural catcher of the football coming out of the backfield with some shiftiness in the open field. The fact that he is proficient and excels in pass protection, which is an area where Hill and many young running backs struggle with, will only strengthen his case for contention when cutdown time comes.
The Ravens like Hill and typically prefer to not discard recently drafted fourth-round picks with two years left on their rookie contracts. However, one of their chief and core values under Head Coach John Harbaugh is that the best players will make the team and play regardless of veteran status or draft position. That is the biggest factor in Williams’ favor if he can keep up the good work and continue to make strides.
“Ty’Son showed that last year in training camp, and he’s just continued it this year in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “So, he’s done really well. … Hopefully, he can continue. I think he will be able to. He’s looking good.”
The likelihood of the Ravens carrying four true running backs again is slim considering they are deep at several positions on both sides of the ball. They currently have a pair of fullback/tight end hybrids in Patrick Ricard and Ben Mason, a crowded interior offensive line room, and some tough decisions to make at safety and wide receiver.
A fourth running back is a luxury they can’t afford this year despite being the most dominant run-heavy offense in the league. Hill didn’t play particularly well against the Saints and hasn’t stood out much in training camp per reports but he could come on strong over the next few weeks. Nevertheless, Williams has a legitimate shot at staking a claim to a roster spot and usurping Hill on the depth chart. He also seems like a more natural fit in the Ravens offense with the rugged and physical way he plays the position.