Eric Dickerson, the Hall of Fame running back who has represented Washington State’s James Williams since the running back declared for the NFL draft, fired off a series of tweets Sunday morning, chiding Cougars coach Mike Leach for “talking down” Williams’ stock in the months leading up to the draft.
The longtime WSU coach has been steadfast in his belief that players should stay in college all four years and earn their diploma before skipping off to the NFL. Leach advised Williams to return for his senior season and obtain his undegraduate degree, though the running back made a hard decision to come out a year early and pursue his dream of playing professional football.
“The NFL advised James to stay in school,” Leach said in January, the day Williams declared. “I agree with the NFL, but in any case we wish James the very best of luck with his future.”
Williams, who’d been projected as a late-round selection on some mock draft boards while not appearing on others, wasn’t selected in the final four rounds Saturday and promptly signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Dickerson, an ex-Los Angeles Rams running back who now works as an NFL analyst for FS1, posted the following tweet in a notepad message Sunday morning:
“Thank you @Coach_Leach for talking down @boobiewilliams2 #NFLDraft stock nonstop since James declared. Because of you… James was able to choose his dream team @Chiefs. Thank you for not helping James accomplish his goal of feeding his family… who were homeless only a few years ago. Because of you … James will be a great NFL running back. Thank you for thinking this is the 1980s where players have no voice. Because of you… players will unite from Hall of Famers to top high school recruits and protest your ways. We will not stand for NCAA coaches using their power to harm young men who are simply trying to help their families. We’re watching you “Coach” Leach. #ThisTimeItsDifferent #Brotherhood.”
Dickerson’s tweets may have been in response to something Leach posted from his own account Saturday afternoon, shortly after the 2019 draft ended. Leach shared a screenshot from a tweet originally posted by The Athletic’s Max Olson, listing the 49 underclassmen that went undrafted, out of 144 total who declared early.
In the past two years, both of the Cougar players who elected to leave school early – Williams and defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa – went undrafted. Mata’afa, like Williams, was one of the most highly-coveted free agent targets available when the draft ended and signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
WSU QB Luke Falk briefly contemplated an early exit, but ultimately chose to stay for his senior year and was drafted in the sixth round by the Tennessee Titans last April.
Early Sunday morning, Williams posted then subsequently deleted a tweet that was seemingly directed at Leach.
“Some people really butt hurt that I left early and all I’m trying to do is feed my family so if that makes me a bad person then whatever..besides how could you get mad at me leaving when you been trying to leave since I’ve been there. I’m good #ChiefsKingdom”
Leach’s name has been thrown around for a variety of other jobs over the last few years and the coach was allegedly prepared to take the head coaching position at Tennessee before things went sideways with former Volunteers athletic director John Currie.
Williams spoke to The Spokesman-Review the day he officially declared for the draft, on Jan. 5, reasoning “I feel like I’m going to get no better, because I’m going to come back and catch a bunch of balls and probably rush for 500 yards next season. That could be different. I could get hurt – I mean, I could get hurt walking down the street right now out there. I’m healthy, so that’s my main thing.”
Running backs are known to have a much shorter shelf life in the NFL than other positions and Williams has also felt an obligation to support his family, which has grown since the WSU season ended. The Burbank, California, native got engaged to fiancee Rye Hewett last spring and the couple announced the arrival of a newborn boy on New Year’s Eve. Hewett also has a 7-year-old daughter, Breezy.
Williams said that by declaring now, and going through the predraft process one year early, he’d be in a better position to support his family once his son was born. Had he stayed at WSU another year, he would’ve been not only been forfeiting a year’s salary in the NFL – Williams’ earnings may not match those of somone who’d been drafted, but even a practice squad player is guaranteed a minimum of $7,600 per week – but significant time spent with his family.
Over the last few months, Williams went through a rigorous predraft routine that included working out with Dickerson in Southern California, attending the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and preparing for WSU’s Pro Day in Pullman. This time next year, he’ll be in the thick of the NFL offseason, which will give him more time to spend with his family.
“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. “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.”
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