Duke Williams: From Late-Week Roster Addition to Late-Game Hero

Duke Williams
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 23: D'haquille Williams #82 of the Buffalo Bills during the preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 23, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Bills gave Duke Williams an opportunity this week. On Sunday, he made the most of it.

Just one day after the team added him to the active roster, Williams caught the go-ahead touchdown pass in the Bills eventual 14-7 win over the Tennessee Titans. It was his first-ever NFL catch for a score and it helped propel Buffalo to 4-1 on the season. Williams, originally signed by the Bills in January, had been on the team’s practice squad prior to Saturday’s roster moves.

Duke Williams Takes Advantage of His Opportunity With the Buffalo Bills

The result had an added aura of sweetness given the uncertainty that haunted the Bills ahead of the contest. It remained unclear as to whether quarterback Josh Allen would play after he suffered a concussion due to a cheap-shot hit he sustained in Week 4 against the New England Patriots. But almost around the same time Buffalo signed Williams, they announced that Allen cleared concussion protocol and would play against the Titans.

Both Allen and Williams played their part in the win. For the second-year signal-caller out of Wyoming, Sunday’s game was a bounceback performance after he struggled mightily in the loss to the Patriots. He ultimately completed nearly 72 percent of his passes for 219 yards while throwing touchdown passes to Williams and Lee Smith. And he didn’t let the head injury from a week ago faze him as he also rushed the ball 10 times.

Two Former Ju-Co Players Making a Name for Themselves

Those who make it to the NFL all have their own unique stories. Allen and Williams are no different. The former had literally no interest from major college programs and initially played junior college ball before arriving at Wyoming. And yet here he is in his second year as a pro having won four of his first five games of the season.

Williams similarly took the ju-co route but was highly touted after two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. After originally committing to LSU, he eventually decided to play at Auburn. His first season there in 2014 was rather impressive as he totaled 730 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He also averaged 16.22 yards per catch that year which ranked 10th best among SEC receivers. But the following year, he dealt with off-field and academic issues and left the school.

After going undrafted in 2016, Williams eventually signed with the Los Angeles Rams but didn’t survive final roster cuts. He then made his way up north, signing with the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. Almost immediately, Williams had an impactful presence as he totaled 110 yards and a touchdown in his debut against the British Columbia Lions. But he truly broke out in 2018, leading all CFL receivers in yardage (1,579) and tying two others for the lead in touchdowns (11). And his 17.9 yards per reception led all receivers who totaled at least 50 catches.

From the CFL to Western New York

It led to the Bills taking a chance on him. He was one of the team’s first off-season additions of 2019 as they signed him on January 7. But it was always going to be a challenge to make the cut at the end of the preseason given the free agency additions of Cole Beasley and John Brown along with the existence of players such as Zay Jones on the roster. And despite totaling two touchdown catches in Buffalo’s final two preseason games, the team decided to bump him down to the practice squad.

According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, Williams “made his share of plays in the practice setting.” That essentially made him a low-risk, high-reward add ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Titans given the injury issues plaguing Robert Foster and the relative ineffectiveness of Jones so far this season. And when Allen called his name during a tie ball game in the fourth quarter, he delivered.

The NFL is full of players who began as practice squad regulars but morphed into consistent contributors on Sundays. Not everyone is an early-round pick who jumps right into the starting lineup. Oftentimes, it’s all about waiting for your opportunity and making the most of it when it comes. Duke Williams did so in a hard-fought victory on Sunday, catching all four of the balls thrown his way. Can he build on this and become one of Josh’s favorite targets? Only time will tell.

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