Williams revives career with Bills
Former CFL top receiver worked his way to roster, contributed winning TD
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Duke Williams stopped dreaming of scoring his first National Football League touchdown some three years ago, when the receiver essentially walked away from the game.
Williams had no desire to continue playing after going undrafted in 2016 and then being cut by the Los Angeles Rams before the start of the season.
And it sure looked as if the NFL had no interest in a once promising player with a checkered past after Williams was kicked out of Auburn five games into his senior season following a bar fight in which he broke a teammate’s jaw.
“I wasn’t thinking about football no more,” Williams said Monday, when he rejoined the Buffalo Bills (4-1) for practice following the team’s bye week. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Williams has made the most of second chances during a career arc that has impressed and surprised many, including him.
He spent two years in Edmonton, where he led the Canadian Football League with 1,579 yards receiving last season. He signed with Buffalo in January but was among the team’s final cuts in August. Williams then went from spending the first four weeks on Buffalo’s practice squad to scoring the decisive touchdown in a 14-7 win at Tennessee in his NFL debut as a 26-year-old rookie Oct. 6.
With Buffalo facing third-andthree from Tennessee’s seven, Williams burst inside and had a step on a defender to make a two-handed grab of Josh Allen’s pass with 9:46 remaining.
“Never give up. Never give up,” Williams said.
“I had my days and my doubts, like, ‘Man, this is not going to work out.’ But, at the end of the day, I overcame adversity and it made me the man who I am today. I don’t regret nothing.”
He finished catching all four passes thrown in his direction for 29 yards, and was second among Bills receivers in playing 50 snaps as he took over the slot receiver’s role previously held by Zay Jones.
Williams’ performance was so encouraging, the Bills traded Jones — a former secondround pick — to Oakland the following day for a 2021 fifthround draft pick. General manager Brandon Beane said Williams’ promotion was likely going to cut into Jones’ playing time.
Beane added that he had previously turned down trade offers for Jones dating to the preseason.
“I think it was timing more than anything, but it helps to know the guy you brought up came in and it wasn’t too big for him, but I never thought it would be for Duke,” Beane said.
Williams will be expected to do more of the same on Sunday when Buffalo hosts Miami (0-5).
At six-foot-three and 225 pounds, Williams is Buffalo’s tallest receiver, and has also shown an ability to use his big body as a blocker and outmuscle defenders.
Williams first caught the Bills’ attention in the pre-season when he had eight catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns, mostly against second- and third-string defences.
Failing to make Buffalo’s season-opening roster didn’t bother Williams, who instead took it as one more challenge to overcome.
“I wasn’t mad. I was happy I still had a job,” Williams said. “It was a blessing. I still attacked the day and attacked practice as if I was playing that Sunday. I never took a day off.”
Offensive co-ordinator Brian Daboll said Williams is the type of player he roots for because of his perseverance.
“He came to work every day when he was on the practice squad, got better, knew the game plan,” Daboll said. “And those are the guys you bring up in-house that you’d like to give an opportunity to when they earn it. And he’s certainly earned it.”
Buffalo wide receiver Duke Williams scores the winning touchdown against Tennessee on Oct. 6.