Undrafted, former KU RB Pooka Williams signs with Cincinnati

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) carries past Oklahoma State defensive end Brock Martin (40) in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

One of the most explosive skill players to come through the Kansas football program in more than a decade, Pooka Williams had to sit through all seven rounds and 259 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft without hearing his name called.

However, Williams didn’t need to sit tight long before finding a deal as an undrafted free agent. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported the Cincinnati Bengals picked up the former KU running back.

Shortly after the draft concluded Saturday evening, Williams tweeted, “A diamond go (through) a lot before it shine.”

Williams, who opted out four games into the 2020 season at KU, and then entered the draft early following his junior season, had his most promising college campaigns earlier in his career.

In four games as a junior, Williams averaged only 3.8 yards per carry — he averaged 7.0 yards as a freshman and 5.2 as a sophomore. Williams ran for 196 yards (65.3 yards per game) and scored two rushing touchdowns in 2020. Earlier in his career, he totaled 1,125 rushing yards (102.3 per game) as a freshman and 1,061 as a sophomore (96.5 per game).

At KU’s pro day in March, Williams was measured at 5-foot-8 and 1/2 inches — a little smaller than his KU roster listing of 5-10 — and weighed in at 175 pounds.

The undersized back and pro prospect described at the time what he loves about football.

“Just making plays and the physicality of the game. It’s a physical game. And it’s either eat or get eaten,” Williams said. “And I know I ain’t gonna get ate. My mindset’s just different when it comes to football.”

The footage from his KU career, Williams added, shows him playing a physical brand of football, despite his size. Williams said he takes great pride in that.

“It’s a physical game. I love being physical,” Williams said. “I’m not about to get bullied. Don’t matter the size.”

The Jayhawks haven’t had an offensive skill player drafted since 2010, when receivers Kerry Meier (fifth round, Atlanta) and Dezmon Briscoe (sixth round, Cincinnati) both were selected.

KU prospects had seen seven consecutive NFL drafts come and go without an offensive player from the Jayhawks getting drafted before that streak ended in 2020, with Cincinnati taking offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji in the sixth round. Adeniji was the first offensive player from KU drafted since the Bengals took another O-lineman, Tanner Hawkinson, in the fifth round in 2012.