Duke Williams had a memorable NFL debut on Sunday.
The big receiver caught the game-winning touchdown in the Buffalo Bills’ 14-7 win against the Tennessee Titans in Week 5. It’s been a circuitous route to playing in a regular season NFL game for Williams.
For your viewing pleasure:
— Dan Fetes (@danfetes) October 6, 2019
The 26-year-old had tears streaming down his face in the locker room prior to kick-off in Nashville.
“I was crying before the game in the mirror because it took me a long time to get back here. I knew everybody probably was like, ‘he ain’t going to do it,'” Williams said.
While at Auburn University in 2015, Williams was dismissed by Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn for a violation of team rules — reportedly punching four people at a bar. Williams went from being the No. 1 rated JUCO recruit by Auburn to out of school.
That dropped his NFL draft stock as Williams signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. He made two catches for 10 yards in the preseason and lost a fumble, which led to his release at the end of training camp.
“I humbled myself, grew as a man and started to put everybody else first besides myself,” Williams said.
“It was a long rough journey, I had my ups and downs. I was discouraged, I had my thoughts about, ‘it’s over.'”
Williams hauled in eight passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason. His work ethic continued to show on the practice roster, which earned him a chance to play real reps on Sunday.
“My alignment, my assignment, execution all day long,” Williams said.
“He’s earned it — the way he practiced, his behaviour in terms of his habits, one practice to another all the way through the first four weeks leading us up to this week,” head coach Sean McDermott said.
“He made plays in practice and in the one-on-ones, so he earned it. It’s important that he continues to improve. Let’s manage expectations — he’s a young player and I thought he gave us something. I loved his juice, I love the toughness he brings.”
That mentality led to Williams catching all four of his targets for 29 yards and one touchdown, the first of his career in the NFL. Quarterback Josh Allen clearly trusts Williams with the football in the air.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll had faith in Williams to play a lot during his NFL debut. He was on the field for 51 of the Bills’ 63 snaps on offence — 50 more downs played than 2017 second round pick Zay Jones. There was a competition brewing between Williams and Jones for playing time until the latter was traded to the Oakland Raiders.
Buffalo’s face of the franchise has an affinity for Williams.
Josh Allen to Duke Williams after the game:
"Duke! Hey Duke. Hey! I love you."
— Andy Young (@AndyYoungTV) October 6, 2019
The verbal heart emoji is a sign Allen and Williams have developed a connection.
“He handled it the way he handles every day: he goes and attacks it. He’s one of those guys that you love to have on your team, the way he approaches the game, the way he approaches practice, the way he approaches life,” Allen said.
“He’s got a really cool story, a lot of guys appreciate what he’s done for us not even being on the active, but on the practice squad and the juice that he gives us. You see he gets an opportunity and makes the most of it.”
Allen handed Williams the ball at the end of the game.
“Just from what he’s been through, like I said his story is pretty awesome. For him to play in his first NFL game and play the way he did and make a crucial catch — the touchdown — I just wanted to let him know I appreciate him.
The Bills are on a bye week, but when the football staff reviews the film, Williams’ desire should jump off the tape and continue earning him the confidence of his coaches and teammates.