Cincinnati Bengals Roster: Elusive Pooka Williams could surprise at training camp

Cincinnati Bengals running back Pooka Williams Jr. playing for the Kansas Jayhawks. - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals running back Pooka Williams Jr. playing for the Kansas Jayhawks. - Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

It will be interesting to see if the Cincinnati Bengals‘ undrafted free agent rookie running back Pooka Williams can impress enough to be considered more than a return specialist.

Williams had an interesting, if brief career, for the Kansas Jayhawks. In 25 career games, he rushed for 2,382 yards, for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He also added 66 receptions for 534 yards.

The intriguing thing about Williams is he put up good numbers running behind an inadequate offensive line for his whole career. He played just four games in 2020, but the Jayhawks ranked 116th in rushing. With Williams on board for most of the previous two seasons, they ranked 73rd in 2019 and 62nd in 2018, mainly due to Williams’ elusiveness and explosiveness.

During his time at Kansas, he was obviously by far the most talented offensive player the hapless Jayhawks had. And he still made plays.

In a game his freshman year, he kept the Jayhawks close against a powerhouse Sooners’ team by accumulating 252 yards rushing on just 15 carries (an astounding 16.8 average), two rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, and three catches for 18 yards.

As a sophomore, he pounded out 190 yards against Texas and another 137 against Oklahoma. His best outings weren’t against mid-major defenses but strong, quick, athletic defenses.

Williams was the offense, and every defense knew it, yet they still struggled to contain him even without much quality blocking up front.

He did have some success as a kick returner in college as well. In 18 returns, he averaged 24.6 yards per return and ran one for a touchdown. Because of his diminutive size – 5’10”, 170 pounds – and his speed and open-field elusiveness, a return specialist might be his niche in the NFL.

Pooka Williams has the skills to be a surprise for the Cincinnati Bengals

It will still be interesting to see how he performs as a running back if he gets the chance. If he were to get the ball in space, he is talented enough and fast enough to make defenders miss, even in the NFL.

Right now, according to CBS Sports, he doesn’t even appear on the Bengals depth chart as a running back or a kick returner. He will have to be very impressive in training camp to earn his stripes, so to speak.

If Williams were to make this roster to open the season, it would be a very pleasant surprise in whatever capacity. Many things have to go right for him, and he will need to open some eyes in camp even to have a chance.

He’s got the skillset to impress if his size isn’t an impediment. He showed he could compete against the best competition as a running back and returner in college, and he showed he could be effective out of the backfield as a pass-catcher.

With a walking injury waiting to happen in starter Joe Mixon, any talented depth at running back is a must. Having that depth include someone with game-breaking open-field abilities is a luxury. It might be Williams is that player for the Bengals.

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