GREEN BAY — For another player, it would’ve been an easy decision. As it turned out, it was an easy decision for Jamaal Williams, too.
When NFL personnel executives asked Williams prior to the NFL draft what he did to violate Brigham Young’s honor code, a misstep before the 2015 season that forced him to withdraw from school, Williams told them the truth: “I had a girl in my room.”
Scouts’ reaction? “Most of them laughed,” Williams said.
They weren’t laughing at the way Williams responded to his mistake, however.
Rather than transferring out of BYU — Williams is not a Mormon, and even after a torn ACL in 2014, he would have had significant interest from other schools after rushing for 2,526 yards his first three seasons for the Cougars — he spent 2015 working out in Arizona, came back to the team last fall and rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher.
That performance, coupled with complete ownership of his mistake, made an impression on NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, who took him in the fourth round last weekend.
“I think it says something about him,” Packers director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “He could have gone anywhere he wanted as a transfer. The fact that he came back there, I think that tells you his intestinal fortitude and what he’s made up of. It would have been probably easier at one point to leave and go somewhere else and started anew, but he came back and chose to do that. I think that says something about the kid. That was something we thought was an asset.”
Asked why he didn’t just go to another school, Williams replied, “I stayed there because BYU was the first team that actually gave me an offer and wanted me for me. Loyalty is a big thing for me.
“I was angry, but at the same time you have to know that it’s your responsibility. You made the choice of going to the school. They tell you the rules before you get there. If you don’t (follow them), then that’s your fault. So I was mad, but at the same time I just had to grow up and understand the consequences.”
Williams, who also was suspended for one game after an underage drinking arrest in 2014, in no way raised red flags for the Packers.
“We feel really good about the kid,” Sullivan said. “He’s very well-liked by his teammates, he’s a team captain. He’s a guy who football is very important to him. He does the little things to be a good football player. … We feel very, very confident about the football player and about the person.”
The Packers need Williams to hit the ground running in their unproven backfield, where coach Mike McCarthy pronounced converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery as “absolutely” the starter following the draft. But with just 105 career rushing attempts (including playoffs), and given McCarthy’s preference for a 1-2 punch at running back, one of the Packers’ three rookies — Williams, fifth-round pick Aaron Jones or seventh-round pick Devante Mays — will have ample opportunities this season.
As the draft approached, Williams and longtime NFL agent Leigh Steinberg saw various teams’ depth charts and saw Green Bay as a potential destination. (Coincidentally, Steinberg also represents Jones.)When the Packers went on the clock at No. 134, they wasted no time making Williams the first offensive player of their class.
“I felt that Green Bay would be a good spot for me,” Williams said. “We talked about it. I thought about it and I think I could really fit in with Green Bay and their offense. They don’t really have a lot of running backs, but at the same time Ty Montgomery did a great job of filling in and playing running back. I just want to help out and do whatever I can and still contribute.”
Listed at 6 feet and 213 pounds, Williams has a powerful running style that the Packers are hoping could mimic that of Eddie Lacy, a four-year starter who departed as a free agent to Seattle in March. Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf described Williams as being a “classic, between the tackles-sized” running back, which would fill the void Lacy left.
“I’ve watched Eddie Lacy run before because he’s a big back and I like big backs in general, because I just like the bruising part about the game,” Williams said. “I’m not really trying to fill the void. I’m just really trying to come in and do my job. I’m only a rookie right now and I don’t want to put too much expectations on me. But I have my goals.
“I feel I’m an old-style type of running back. I like to bruise, I like to pound into people a lot. I feel like I’m a grinder, a workhorse and as the game keeps going — fourth quarter, third quarter — I’m just getting stronger and stronger and trying to wear the defenses down. That’s what I like to do and that’s how I like to play.”