Mike Gillislee wasn’t the only restricted free-agent running back to reportedly stop by Gillette Stadium this week. He wasn’t the only one hailing from the AFC East, either.
ESPN’s Field Yates shared Thursday that the New England Patriots also hosted Gillislee’s onetime Miami Dolphins teammate, Damien Williams, on a visit.
Williams’ name hasn’t drawn the same level of discussion as Gillislee’s since the new league year began on March 9. But there are still several layers to peel back when gauging New England’s level of interest in the 25-year-old rusher.
Here are five.
Undrafted with original-round tender
Both Gillislee and Williams were given the original-round tender of $1.797 million by their respective 2016 clubs. But unlike Gillislee, a 2013 fifth-round pick who has spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills and managed to lead the league with 5.71 yards per carry this past season, acquiring Williams from the Dolphins would come with one less string attached.
The Patriots wouldn’t have to sacrifice a draft pick in order to acquire him if the Dolphins declined to match a prospective offer sheet.
Williams first entered the league as an undrafted free agent by way of Arizona Western College and Oklahoma in 2014.
Receiving has outweighed rushing
Williams has appeared in 47 of a possible 48 regular-season games for Miami. Over that span, the 5-foot-11, 228-pounder’s offensive contributions have come predominantly as a pass-catcher on a depth chart now occupied by 2016 third-round pick Kenyan Drake and emerging Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi.
Williams has handled 87 carries for 296 yards and three touchdowns as a rusher, with all three of those ground scores transpiring inside the 12-yard line this past season. But he has also posted 65 catches for 578 yards and five touchdowns – six if accounting for Miami’s wild-card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in January.
The 3.4-yard career rushing average falls below the league median. Just one run of over 20 yards has been logged on Williams’ NFL resume. But his resume does feature 8.9 yards per catch out of the backfield. Williams has accrued eight receptions of 20-plus yards and two of 40-plus during his Dolphins tenure. He turned a screen pass into a 58-yard gain this past season.
Utility on special teams
Williams has played 367 snaps on offense through three campaigns with Miami. On special teams, however, he’s been in for a total of 649 snaps since initially securing a 53-man roster spot in September of 2014.
Williams has stood back deep to turn 28 kickoffs into 591 yards, with the bulk of those opportunities arriving during the 2015 season before Drake and fellow rookie Jakeem Grant took on returns. He has seen the kicking game from the other side as well, netting 11 tackles on return men.
Doing the little things like lining up on the wing of the punt-coverage unit, and carving out a place on Miami’s kick-coverage and kick-return units have added up for Williams.
No. 26 has on-field familiarity with the Patriots. He’s faced the divisional rival five times in the last three years.
Miami has gone 2-3 in those matchups. Williams, meanwhile, has collected 15 rushing yards on five carries, 70 receiving yards on eight catches, and 19 return yards on one kickoff versus New England.
“Ajayi gets a lot of credit and he deserves it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his December 28 press conference leading up to the most recent encounter. “Drake, Williams – they've got a lot of depth at that position.”
In the sudden wave of free-agent running backs visiting Foxborough, Williams flies low on the radar. He is not to be mistaken for Adrian Peterson or Gillislee. Nor is he to be mistaken for LeGarrette Blount, who remains unsigned 367 days after penning his last Patriots contract and is fresh off a 1,161-yard, 18-touchdown season.
Williams would project more as a core special-teamer cut from a similar cloth as Brandon Bolden. Bolden, though, re-upped with the Patriots for a sixth season just last week.
Depth is never a bad problem to have, especially given that only one running back is under contract with New England beyond 2017. But is it worth investing in that type of depth only two weeks before the draft? That question remains unanswered. Williams would offer another pass-catching option to a committee that already holds several with James White, Dion Lewis, former wideout D.J. Foster and March addition Rex Burkhead. He could also potentially provide big-back, short-yardage help to a group that checks in with three players weighing 205 pounds or less.
As for now, Williams is a Dolphin just like Gillislee is a Bill. And in the event the restricted back signs an offer sheet before the April 21 deadline, his current team would have five days to match.