Running back Kerwynn Williams runs for some of his 100 yards Sunday during the Cardinals' win over Kansas City.
Kerwynn Williams began this week on the Cardinals' practice squad, imitating the actions of Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles on the scout team.
By Sunday he was making moves of his own, outgaining even Charles.
Williams, a little-known second-year running back out of Utah State, had 100 yards on the first 19 carries of his NFL career, helping the Cardinals to a 17-14 victory over the Chiefs. His surprising ascent became even more important when coach Bruce Arians announced postgame that starting running back Andre Ellington would miss the rest of the season with a sports hernia injury.
The Cardinals made a surprise move on Friday, releasing veteran running back Michael Bush to elevate Williams to the active roster,
and he wasted no time in repaying that trust.
"I knew Kerwynn was going to play well," Arians said. "That's why we made the move. He has been the only guy on our practice field the last three weeks that made our players go, 'Wow.' Making people miss, working our defense. He was Jamaal Charles until Thursday, and then I had to take him out of that role because I knew I was going to start him and play him a bunch."
The Cardinals' running attack was ranked 31st in the NFL heading into the game, but finished with 33 carries for a season-high 141 yards despite Ellington's absence. Much of that was on the back of Williams, who had a long of 16 yards and hit the hole decisively throughout. He reached the century mark on his final carry, a 5-yard gain on third-and-7 which he almost turned into a game-clinching first down with under two minutes left.
He became the team's first 100-yard rusher this season, and even though Arians said it would be a running back by committee in this game, Williams admitted the performance surpassed anything he could have dreamed up.
"I wasn't expecting today to happen," Williams said.
As the final seconds ticked off and Williams headed to the locker room, he was stopped and congratulated by safety Tony Jefferson. The two have trained in San Diego together for the past two years, and when word leaked that Williams might be getting his shot, Jefferson told him to take advantage.
"I've always thought he was explosive," Jefferson said. "Last night we talked before the game. I told him, 'If you get your chance, just go ball out.' He said, 'Yeah, I'm trying to get in the end zone.' He performed beyond what a lot of people expected him to. He's new to a lot of people, but I've known about him for a long time. I'm proud of him and hopefully he can keep it going."
Ellington led the NFL at 5.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie last season, but dipped to a 3.3 average (201 carries for 660 yards) this year. Despite that, he was one of the team's most important skill players, adding 46 catches for 395 yards as one of the top receiving threats.
Stepfan Taylor started the game and Marion Grice also saw a decent amount of action. Taylor finished with six carries for 19 yards and Grice had three for six.
"When a guy like Andre goes down, it's an opportunity for somebody else," Arians said. "I had a lot of faith in Marion. I was going to find whichever one had the hot hand and he was going to get the ball. Stepfan was going to start it and get us off to a good start and I was going to find a hot hand between one of those two young guys and we found one."
Grice was the main back after Ellington was hurt in Atlanta and now Williams has added himself to the discussion. Between recent running game struggles and Ellington's injury, questions about ground game competency abounded, but Taylor hopes Sunday's win is a sign of things to come.
"I feel like we're all great backs, and if we all take that same mindset, there's not going to be a dropoff," Taylor said.
Williams was a seventh-round pick of the Colts out of Utah State in 2013. He was a backup for his first three seasons with the Aggies, waiting behind future NFL runners Michael Smith and Robert Turbin. It took him some time to find the field in the NFL as well, but it couldn't have come at a better time for the Cardinals.
"He's emulating Jamaal Charles in practice on the scout team, and then he goes for 100 in the game," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "That's storybook stuff."