The Ravens tight end pushed aside the perception that he wasn't fully recovered from a surgery no one will talk specifically about and reinserted himself into the conversation as a playmaker for this team.
"He’s a sneaky athlete," coach John Harbaugh said. "You want to think that he’s not athletic and all of a sudden he starts running people over and breaking tackles. That’s what we’ve been looking for from him since we drafted him. That was really fun to watch."
Williams was never the most fluid runner, even when the Ravens made him the first true tight end drafted in 2015. But in this year's training camp, Williams was slow coming off the snap and couldn't get separation in routes.
This was the result of a knee surgery 10 months ago that the team described as complicated and rare. Harbaugh said it's the first time an NFL player has had this surgery then returned to playing.
What made this surgery so unique? Team officials say it's up to Williams to discuss it, and Williams has declined to explain.
What Williams will say is he had to stay off his feet for 10 weeks and didn't begin running again until the middle of June.
"I use the analogy that someone had ACL surgery first," the 23-year-old said. "So when I got my surgery first, I'm just the lucky one that had to do it. Hopefully, if it works and I play great, someone else might need to do that. Hopefully this can change careers after me."
Williams' career hasn't gone exactly as he envisioned. The Ravens traded up in the second round to select Williams with the No. 55 overall pick.
He immediately showed promise in 2015, when he broke franchise rookie records for receptions (32) and receiving yards (268) by a tight end. His second season, however, was cut short. Williams was placed on injured reserve after four games (and no catches) because of a cartilage issue in his knee.
Because of the long layoff from playing football, it was important for Williams to make an impact again, even if it was a preseason game. He finished Thursday with two catches for 48 yards.
“It’s the best I’ve felt mentally," Williams said, "just proving to myself that I can get back and play."
The Ravens' tight end position appears to be up in the air behind starter Nick Boyle. Williams is competing against Benjamin Watson and Larry Donnell for the No. 2 spot, which could lead to plenty of snaps considering how senior offensive assistant Greg Roman likes using multiple tight ends.
That's why Thursday night not only represented a big step for Williams in terms of the depth chart but also one for his confidence.
"You always wonder every day [about returning to form]," Williams said. "I’ve been through it. I had major surgery. I’m not going to take anything for granted anymore. I realize how fast something like this can be taken from you and how special it is to be in the NFL."