Wide receiver Duke Williams is humbled and relishing this opportunity. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder is taking part in the Buffalo Bills’ rookie minicamp this weekend after spending the last two seasons playing in the CFL after several tumultuous years in which he really wasted a lot of potential. Williams was a highly touted prospect four short years ago. After catching 26 touchdown passes in two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he signed with the Auburn Tigers and made an immediate impact, reeling in 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns in a 2014 season in which he played just 10 games due to serving two separate suspensions. The following season, he caught just 12 passes before being dismissed from the team after an altercation at a bar left his teammate with a broken jaw.
Williams went undrafted in 2016, but was signed by the Rams as a rookie free agent, an opportunity he admits that he took for granted.
“When I was with the Rams, I really ain’t have love for the game no more,” Williams told Jason Wolf of BNBlitz (subscription). “I got kicked out of school. I din’t think I’d play no more. I got a call. I ain’t even worked out one time when I got kicked out of school. So I got a call. I’m like ‘All right. I’ll go.’ But I wasn’t into it.”
Duke Williams caught just two passes for 10 yards during the 2016 preseason and says the experience really humbled him and made him want to chase greatness.The sad reality of being released was what ultimately lit a fire under him that allowed him to persevere and excel in the Canadian Football League.
The 25-year old led the league in receiving, tallying 1,579 yards on 88 receptions. His 11 touchdowns tied for the league lead and he made the All-CFL team.
The Bills took notice and decided to give the big, physical receiver a chance to redeem himself and fulfill his dream in the NFL. At the NFL Scouting Combine, head coach Sean McDermott discussed what he thinks Williams brings to the table.
We found a player we feel like may be able to help us or at least add to the competition. He’s a player that’s played at a big-time university at Auburn and has made some big-time strides in his career over the last few years, and we’re excited to add him to the mix.”
General manager Brandon Beane echoed those sentiments, telling The Buffalo News that the team did their due diligence on the troubled receiver.
“After he worked out well and it was a good visit. I said, ‘Spend the next couple of weeks and research and find out how he’s been.’ Everything was very positive. This guy is ultra-serious about ball. He feels like, ‘This is my chance to prove myself. I want another opportunity in the NFL. Everybody in the CFL was just saying this guy busted his chops and did a great job. He does have an edge. He’s excited about the opportunity to get back in the NFL and show what he can do. He’ll obviously have a good chance.”
Now, with his first day of rookie minicamp in the books, Duke Williams understands just what is at stake and that this could potentially be his last opportunity to play in the NFL. He met with the media after practice and was heartfelt in his comments.
“Honestly I’m thankful for this. I could’ve gave it all up. Honestly. It’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this opportunity. I gotta cherish this. One day it could be gone. Who knows? But I’ll never take this for granted. I’ll never take this for granted. I’m here to work. They going to see. They going to get the best out of me. It don’t matter what it is, you gonna see me compete.”
Nothing will be handed to Williams. But the team clearly is content with their wide receiver group after failing to select one in the 2019 NFL draft. Williams and undrafted rookie David Sills V are the two bigger-bodied pass catchers on the team that appear to have legitimate chances at cracking the final 53-man roster. But for now, Williams is hungry, motivated and ready to put his head down and work.