The Cincinnati Bengals bolstered their offensive backfield with multiple big-school running backs during the final day of the 2021 NFL Draft, selecting Michigan’s Chris Evans in the sixth round and signing Kansas’ Pooka Williams as a rookie free agent. The two first-year backs offer notably different skill sets to the Bengals offense.
Evans, a 5-foot-11 and 211-pound mauler, adds a physical presence to the Cincy backfield. While he only registered 25 touches during his final year in Ann Arbor, he provided solid play as a rotational rusher during the previous three seasons (304 carries for 1,722 yards and 14 touchdowns). While Evans lacks the versatility prized by modern NFL offenses, he could develop as a pass catcher early in his career.
In stark contrast, Williams measured in at 5-foot-9 and just 175 pounds during his pro day. Few running backs have long NFL careers at that size, and Williams will have to establish himself as more than just a runner to stick around. While he caught just six passes during his final season in Kansas, he recorded 60 receptions for 503 yards and four touchdowns during the two years before.
Neither Evans nor Williams has a great outlook in 2021. The Bengals have Joe Mixon firmly established as the starter with Samaje Perine and 2019 draft pick Trayveon Williams serving as the primary backups.
Even on a longer timeframe, neither Evans or Williams has a clear path to regular work. Williams might never have more than a James White-light role while Evans will have to develop genuine receiving skills to see the field in neutral game situations. Either scenario could happen, but neither appears likely at this time.