THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Kyren Williams' NFL career is going the way he always imagined it, even if he needed a bit longer than he thought to seize this spotlight with the Los Angeles Rams.
The running back who grew up in St. Louis idolizing the Rams' Steven Jackson is now asserting himself as an heir to his hero with 599 yards rushing in just seven games in his second season. He has rebounded superbly from an injury-shortened rookie year, seizing a prominent role this fall and then returning from another injury last week with his biggest performance of all.
“It kind of continued the same pattern in my life,” Williams said Wednesday. “Ever since high school, I’ve been that overlooked type of player, you know? Never able to have the shine right off the bat. I always had to work for everything. So for me, it was able to get through the storm, weather the storm and come out better because of it and get to where I’m at now. Now, I’m not looking back. I’m just going for it.”
Williams was named the NFC’s offensive player of the week after his do-everything performance in the Rams’ 37-14 win at Arizona last Sunday. He racked up 143 yards rushing on just 16 carries and added six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns, catching every pass thrown his way by Matthew Stafford.
“It’s definitely cool to be recognized,” Williams said. “It’s a blessing. But I want more of those, so I’ve got to keep on working.”
The ups and downs of a relatively short NFL career have only fueled Williams, who is the engine driving the Rams (5-6) into the playoff race after they nearly fell all the way out during his recent absence. Los Angeles has won two straight heading into a key home game against Cleveland on Sunday, pitting Williams' offense against one of the league's top defenses.
Stafford has only played with one 1,000-yard rusher in his 15 NFL seasons — Reggie Bush in Detroit a decade ago — but the veteran quarterback is thrilled for the Rams to have a running back with Williams' star potential.
“Helps to hopefully keep our defense off the field when you’re able to be efficient on some of the run-game stuff,” Stafford said. “It obviously gives our coach and coordinator confidence to call his plays, and we’re getting big (gains) out of it. The explosives were huge last week. (Williams and backup Royce Freeman) are getting it done in the run game and the pass game, so it’s fun to watch, fun to be a part of. I think it fires up our guys up front and our guys on the perimeter. If they continue to block, good things are going to happen. Those backs are going to get to the second level.”
Williams' childhood in St. Louis coincided with Jackson's 11 seasons, during which he became the leading rusher in Rams franchise history. Williams imagined himself wearing the horned helmet for that whole time, and he was thrilled when the Rams drafted him out of Notre Dame.
But after the excitement of being chosen by the defending Super Bowl champions wore off a bit, Williams' rookie season was kind of a chore. He broke his foot in offseason workouts, and then he incurred a high ankle sprain on a kick return in Week 1, spending two months on injured reserve.
Williams eventually returned, but had just one game with more than seven carries while the Rams went 5-12. He came back last spring competing for snaps behind Cam Akers, who rushed for 786 yards in 2022.
But even before Akers' second major clash with the Rams' coaching staff led to his abrupt departure in Week 3, Williams had asserted himself.
Williams scored six total touchdowns and had his first 100-yard rushing game in the season's first four weeks, and then he really arrived in LA's first meeting with the Cardinals by producing a 158-yard performance, the Rams' biggest ground game in roughly three years.
Even more adversity lurked: Williams sprained his ankle late in that game and missed the next four, only returning last week. His mother, sister and extended family flew out to watch his latest breakout performance — and Williams smiles at the memory of his uncle's tears when he received Williams' jersey postgame.
Williams knows this grueling profession is about to get harder: The Browns will be fully aware of what he's been doing, and Williams is likely to see more attention than he's received in his short career.
“I would expect nothing less,” Williams said. “We’re in the NFL. We’ve got great coaches. They obviously have a great game plan and know what to scheme against, and we’ve got great players on offense. It’s not going to be just me that they scheme against, but we’ve got other threats at the receiver options, which allows me to be able to probably get less attention, but I’m excited for whatever is to come.”
NOTES: DT Larrell Murchison (knee) and DB Quentin Lake (hamstring) missed Wednesday's practice. Lake isn't expected to play Sunday. ... WR Cooper Kupp was a full participant in practice despite his injured ankle.