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Washington State’s James Williams joins Kansas City Chiefs as undrafted free agent

UPDATED: Sat., April 27, 2019, 10:37 p.m.

Washington State  running back James Williams  hurdles Iowa State  defensive back Brian Peavy  during the first half of the  Alamo Bowl on  Dec. 28, 2018,  in San Antonio. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State running back James Williams hurdles Iowa State defensive back Brian Peavy during the first half of the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28, 2018, in San Antonio. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – He wasn’t drafted, but James Williams will still get a chance to spin, hurdle and score at the next level.

Williams, the Washington State running back who left school after his junior season to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, will start his professional career with an undrafted free-agent deal, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday afternoon.

Watching the draft from home in Burbank, California, Williams wasn’t one of the 254 players to get a once-in-a-lifetime call from an NFL general manager this weekend. Once the draft ended, however, he became one of the most coveted free agents available.

It’s often thought the UDFA route is a better option for a player than being a late-round pick, because players can choose their destination. It’s unclear how many suitors Williams had, but the running back presumably chose the Chiefs over at least five other clubs because it was the right fit or the best situation.

The Chiefs are coming off a season that saw them advance all the way to the AFC championship game. After standout running back Kareem Hunt was dismissed from the team because of a controversial domestic violence incident, the Kansas City backfield seems to have question marks.

The other three running backs on the Chiefs roster – Carlos Hyde, Damien Williams and Darrel Williams – combined to rush for less than 1,000 yards in 2018-19. While many presume James Williams doesn’t have the ability to thrive as an every-down back in the NFL, he could carve out a niche role within Kansas City’s productive offense.

The Chiefs drafted one running back, Utah State’s Darwin Thompson, with the final pick of the sixth round.

Williams, the multipurpose back who rushed for 12 touchdowns and caught four more in 2018, elected to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter his name in the 2019 draft.

“I was initially going to stay, and we talked about it more and more and I changed my mind, and I feel like I’m ready for it,” Williams said.

In 2018, Williams caught 83 passes – the most of any running back at the FBS level – and turned those receptions into 613 yards. Over his three years with the Cougars, Williams rushed for 1,539 yards and 19 touchdowns, while catching 202 passes for 1,437 yards and eight touchdowns.

Drafted or not, Williams had to buck some major odds to arrive on the doorstep of an NFL contract. The 6-foot, 205-pound running back was homeless for a considerable amount of time after his family moved to California from Toledo, Ohio, living in trucks and cheap motels.

Williams committed to WSU prior to his senior year at Burbank High, but he blew out his ACL and MCL in the second game of his senior season. The Cougars honored their offer to Williams, who redshirted in 2015 and used his first couple of years on campus to straighten out his academics.

The running back got engaged to girlfriend Rye last spring, and the couple announced the arrival of a baby son last New Year’s Eve.

“I’m a family-oriented person, so I’d rather sacrifice this little portion of time to get to where I’m trying to be, and then once I’m in the NFL and hopefully everything goes smooth and I’m making enough to support a family, so when my baby is born we have enough to support,” Williams said in January. “If I ran into this situation next year, I’d be away from my kid for three to four months, whatever the case may be.”

Cougfan.com reported that linebacker Peyton Pelluer will join the Cleveland Browns’ rookie camp.

Other players who contributed to WSU’s historic 11-win season could hear from NFL teams about free-agent deals or rookie minicamp invites over the next few days. That group includes defensive lineman Logan Tago, nickel Hunter Dale, cornerback Darrien Molton, running back Keith Harrington, and wide receivers Kyle Sweet and Robert Lewis.

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