Early returns positive on Cardinals backup RBs Benjamin, Williams

Oct 5, 2022, 12:50 PM | Updated: 2:42 pm
Eno Benjamin #26 of the Arizona Cardinals stiff arms Jeremy Chinn #21 of the Carolina Panthers duri...
Eno Benjamin #26 of the Arizona Cardinals stiff arms Jeremy Chinn #21 of the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

As the evidence slowly collects, the Arizona Cardinals can’t deny the results of their running back room.

James Conner, the known commodity entering the year, remains the trusted starter, physical tone-setter and closer. But after the Cardinals allowed last year’s regular Chase Edmonds to walk, the team has gotten validating play from its two backups, Eno Benjamin and Darrel Williams.

“You saw (Sunday against the Carolina Panthers) we were able to utilize them early in the game and James is a great closer,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Monday. “The last drive was a great look at that.

“That team knew we had to run it. That’s a very good defense, defensive line and linebackers. We were able to get a couple first downs and close it out. He’s able to stay fresh and when money’s on the table, I like what we have in the backfield.”

Arizona led 26-16, the final score, with 4:47 left in the game at Carolina before Conner took five straight handoffs. He picked up two first downs before quarterback Kyler Murray kneeled the ball to burn the rest of the clock.

Before that, though, Benjamin and Williams combined for nine carries and 55 yards.

Conner still took 66% of the snaps, but the Cardinals’ trust in the backups appears to be leading to good things.

As far as results through a 2-2 start for the team, the numbers shine bright for Benjamin, the in-house developed player, and Williams, the bargain free-agent signing.

Conner is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, which out of 29 players who have taken at least 40 carries in the NFL sits second-to-last.

Benjamin sits at 5.0 yards per carry (22 carries) to Williams’ 6.5 average (13 carries).

The pop from the backups is showing up in missed tackles and yards after contact. Conner’s 2.27 yards after contact ranks 77th out of players with at least 10 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Williams is at 4.15 yards after contact (third), while Benjamin’s is a solid 3.55 (25th).

The backups still have a small sample of snaps, of course.

But in those sample sizes, Benjamin and Williams have combined for four explosive runs (of 10-plus yards) and eight forced missed tackles in 35 carries.

Conner alone has one explosive run and nine forced missed tackles in 45 attempts, according to PFF.

Benjamin has kept pace with Conner in the receiving arena, while Williams’ use in the passing game hasn’t met the expectations that his impressive resume with the Kansas City Chiefs last year indicated.

And all that doesn’t discount the fact that Conner’s pass-protection abilities as a bigger body deserves a mention here.

But there’s growing intrigue about his backups — and how Kingsbury might be more apt to turn to them.

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