GREEN BAY – Jamaal Williams drew rave reviews all summer from Packers coaches and players for everything the fourth-year running back did to improve this past offseason.
Last Monday night, Williams put it to good use.
Williams' steady hands and refined route-running were on full display in Green Bay's 30-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons, with the 6-foot, 213-pound running back setting new career highs in both receptions (eight) and receiving yards (95).
His 77 receiving yards in the first half were the most by a Packers running back to start a game in six years and keyed several scoring drives for a Green Bay offense that was playing without top receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard.
"I feel like defenses really just don't feel like they need to respect RBs enough outside of our route running," Williams said. "Anything past five yards, they really don't take us as a threat. So we're really just trying to let them know you've got to look at us too, or we'll make you pay for it."
Williams did just that 7 minutes into the Falcons game, running a deep route from the slot and extending to haul in a 29-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers near the sideline despite a safety bearing down on him.
Williams always has been well-regarded for his pass-catching ability, but the area position coach Ben Sirmans looked for the 25-year-old running back to improve in was his route-running.
He not only did that this offseason – just look at his Instagram page – but Williams also cut 10 pounds in order to be play with more twitch.
"I'd rather run a person over and do it that way," Williams said. "But sometimes you've got to keep 'em honest and let them know you can juke them out of their shoes, use a little finesse and get slippery and make 'em break those tackles that way."
To get lighter, Williams cut out his late-night snacking. He increased his water intake, ate more fruit and made perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all – limiting himself to one peanut butter and jelly sandwich per day.
It's been worth it, though.
"I can really feel the difference," Williams said. "Just looking at everything I know I can do and always look at things you could be better at. I know I could be better at route-running. I know I could be better at getting myself open on one-on-ones against linebackers and getting opportunities to catch the ball and make plays."
Even prior to the team's recent injuries at receiver, Head Coach Matt LaFleur has spoken about how critical running backs are to the passing offense. In the first year in LaFleur's scheme, both Williams and Aaron Jones saw their receiving numbers spike.
With that in mind, LaFleur and the offensive coaches built a package last year that incorporated both of their veteran running backs, and in developing a game plan around the offense's best available weapons, the Packers brought it back against Atlanta.
The beauty is its simplicity, especially when Tyler Ervin is on the field. Green Bay can motion any of the three backs around to create mismatches. Williams' big 29-yard catch in the first quarter came in that alignment, with Jones lined up in the backfield and Ervin coming on a fake end-around.
"I think it just shows that we're dual threats, we can do everything," Williams said. "We can catch the ball, run the ball, just keep defenses on their toes, so they've got to look out for everything."
Williams heard all the compliments LaFleur, Rodgers and Jones have thrown his way, but still feels he has more to give.
Through four games, the 25-year-old running back actually has more receiving yards (119) than rushing (108). Still, when added together, Williams is on pace for a career-high 908 total yards.
While facing a contract year, Williams' primary motivation remains to show NFL teams what they missed out when he slipped to the fourth round back in 2017…and also maybe break 100 receiving yards in a game, too.
"I would like to get 100 yards receiving in a game one day," Williams said. "I'm just grateful to contribute any way I can. So running the ball, catching the ball and really just trying to be a dual threat. Just be a weapon out there and just know that I can make plays wherever I'm at."