Despite rushing for 1,170 yards last season, Kentucky running back Stanley “Boom” Williams went undrafted when he decided to turn pro after his junior campaign.
The 5-foot-8, 196-pound speedster out of Monroe, Ga., quickly signed a free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, however, and he starts his quest to make the 53-man roster when the team opens training camp Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Stanley has shown the ability to -- he’s got speed and acceleration,” head coach Marvin Lewis said Tuesday at the team’s annual pre-draft luncheon when asked about the former UK star. “But we’ve been playing football in shorts, and that’s not how we do it come Sundays. He’s going to have to show that he can do it and withstand the NFL when it comes to football in the pre-season games and be an NFL style-caliber running back.”
“I want to see him execute,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. “I want to see him learn the offense to where he does not hesitate and he can play fast and do it right every time. He certainly brings energy, enthusiasm, life, speed. He’s got a lot of positives.”
Williams might have received a break Wednesday, when the Bengals announced that rookie running back Jarveon Williams, also a free agent, has been placed on the active/physically unable to perform list. Still, Boom has his work cut out for him given the team’s depth in the backfield.
In fact, special teams coach Darrin Simmons indicated Tuesday that Williams’ best chance of making the 53-man roster would come as a return specialist.
Williams did return kickoffs as a freshman in 2014, averaging 26.9 yards on 19 attempts. He had a long of 75 yards. He didn't return punts or kickoffs in either 2015 or 2016.
Meanwhile, rookie Alex Erickson handled the majority of Cincinnati’s punt and kickoff return duties last season. The Wisconsin product ranked 18th in the NFL with a 7.0 yard average on 28 punt returns, with a long of 24 yards. (Veteran cornerback Adam Jones handled 10 punt returns with a 5.1 average.) Erickson was second in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging 27.9 yards on 20 attempts.
As for the Bengals backfield, here’s a look at Boom’s competition:
Jeremy Hill: Drafted in the second round out of LSU in 2014, Hill posted a terrific rookie season, rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. His production has slipped since, however. In 2015, Hill rushed for 11 touchdowns but just 794 yards. He gained 839 yards and scored nine touchdowns on the ground last year. For his career, Hill has caught 63 passes for 468 yards. At 6-1, 235 pounds, Hill has been criticized for his upright running style and habit of fumbling.
Giovani Bernard: The former North Carolina star is coming off a torn ACL, which ended his season after 10 games last year. A second-round pick in 2013 by the Bengals, Bernard has rushed for 2,442 career yards with 14 touchdowns on 583 carries. He’s also a reliable threat catching the ball out of the backfield, with 187 career receptions for 1,671 yards and six scores. Bernard’s best season was 2015, when he rushed for 730 yards and caught 49 passes for 472 yards. At 5-foot-9, 205, he’s not considered an every-down back.
Joe Mixon: The most controversial pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Mixon dropped out of the first round thanks to an assault charge for punching a woman in the face while at Oklahoma. The Bengals took the 6-1, 228-pounder in round two and suffered the expected backlash. No one denies Mixon’s talent. He rushed for 1,274 yards on 187 carries last season, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. He also caught 37 passes for 537 yards. It would not be a surprise if Mixon ended up as Cincinnati’s primary back in 2017.
Cedric Peerman: The 5-10, 212-pound journeyman has been a dependable sub and special teams player. Taken in the sixth round out of Virginia by Baltimore in 2009, Peerman came to the Bengals in 2010. He has been afforded just 70 rushing attempts over the past seven seasons, gaining 349 career yards with one touchdown. He carried the ball just six times for 15 yards last season, appearing in six games.
Tra Carson: The former Texas A&M star signed with the Bengals after going undrafted in 2016. Carson played in all four pre-season games last year and was added to the practice squad. The 5-foot-11, 231-pounder was on the regular roster for the season finale against the Ravens but didn't play. Carson rushed for 1,165 yards in 2015 for the Aggies and caught 29 passes for 183 yards. He was named offensive MVP of the 2014 Liberty Bowl after rushing for 133 yards on 25 carries in Texas A&M’s 45-37 win over West Virginia.
Jarveon Williams: Texas-San Antonio’s all-time leading rusher signed with the Bengals in March after being undrafted this year. A 5-9, 202-pounder, Williams rushed for 900 yards and eight touchdowns on 207 carries last season. He also caught 19 passes for 221 yards. For his career at UTSA, Williams rushed for 2,393 yards and scored 20 total touchdowns. He returned kicks for the Roadrunners during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
CINCINNATI BENGALS' 2017 SCHEDULE
Tampa Bay (exhibition)
Kansas City (exhibition)