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Provo • The weekend that BYU running back Jamaal Williams and his mother, Nicole Williams, have waited for, dreamed about and pointed toward for more than five years almost is here.
The all-time leading rusher in school history will join his fellow graduates in the parking lot north of the Smoot Administration Building on Thursday and participate in the Academic Procession to the Marriott Center to pick up his bachelor's degree in sociology.
"That is the most important part of my life, his life, right now, is to put that diploma up on the wall next to mine," Nicole Williams told BYUtv. "That degree was our No. 1 concern. I am very, very proud of him for getting that degree."
Later that night, one of the most popular student-athletes in BYU history might take a peek at the NFL draft, which begins Thursday at 6 p.m. MDT in Philadelphia. Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday, beginning at 5 p.m. MDT, and rounds 4 through 7, where many expect Williams to be taken, begin at 10 a.m. MDT Saturday.
Williams said last month that he probably will spend the latter half of the draft at his mother's home in Fontana, Calif., hanging out with friends and family and playing video games to pass the time. He continually has said he isn't worried about which round he will go in, only that he goes to a team that really wants him.
"I don't really have" expectations, he said after BYU's Pro Day on March 24. "My only expectation is to watch the first few days and know that my name is going to be called. But really, the importance of it is to get on a team and show what you got so you can make sure you make the team, first of all, and be able to contribute to the team."
One of Williams' goals since he broke into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2012 was to be the highest BYU running back drafted since fullback Todd Christensen was picked in the second round in 1978. Most NFL mock drafts don't have him going that high, but there's no doubting that interest is keen, his mother and agent, Leigh Steinberg, have said.
BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, who spent 14 seasons in the NFL, said scouts he has spoken with have been impressed with what the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Williams brings to the table, although this is considered the deepest draft for running backs in recent memory.
"Yeah, they have loved him," Detmer said. "They loved the upside, the bursts, how well-rounded he was. There have been a lot of good compliments from scouts as they came through."
Detmer said Williams can do a little bit of everything, but "pass protection is a strong suit of his. That's what a lot of rookies struggle with. … And playing in a pro-style type of offense, there won't be many surprises for him. He will come in ready to go."
Williams and linebacker Harvey Langi were the only BYU players invited to February's NFL combine in Indianapolis. His numbers there weren't great, but he improved on almost all of them in Provo, especially his 40-yard dash time. He went from 4.59 in Indy to 4.53 in Provo, although the latter was hand-timed.
"It is a tremendous achievement for me" to improve, Williams said. "It just makes me want to work harder and be the best I can be. It just keeps building. When they say who the top running backs are, and you aren't up there, it just fuels you to keep working hard. When your opportunity comes you have to make sure you take it and live your dream."
Mel Kiper, ESPN draft expert, said Williams has a chance to be a "solid No. 2 back" in the NFL and possibly a dependable third-down back. He has compared Williams to Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears and at one time had Williams listed as the eighth-best running back in the draft and a probable third-round pick.
Others have Williams among their top five backs, and one of the best "big backs" behind LSU's Leonard Fournette. Teams that have expressed the most interest include the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota and Denver brought him in for workouts and interviews.
"It is a lot more than I thought it was going to be," Williams said. "I thought all you do is play football. But no, you got business to attend to. The business part is the hardest part for me. Football is the great part of it."
Along with getting that much-desired degree.
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Pre-Draft Workout Numbers
Category NFL combine BYU Pro Day
40-yard dash 4.59 seconds 4.53 seconds
Vertical jump 30.0 inches 33.0 inches
Broad jump 123 inches N/A
3-cone drill 7.25 seconds 7.07 seconds
20-yard shuttle 4.53 seconds 4.36 seconds
Bench press N/A 18 reps of 225 pounds