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Kyren Williams enters NFL draft, will forgo Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl appearance

North Carolina v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - OCTOBER 30: Kyren Williams #23 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball for a 91 yard touchdown during the fourth quarter in the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Notre Dame Stadium on October 30, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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Kyren Williams has already answered one of the biggest questions of Notre Dame’s offseason. The star junior running back will enter the NFL draft and forgo his senior season, also choosing to opt out of the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day. Williams announced the choices early Friday afternoon, just as junior safety Kyle Hamilton announced the same decisions.

“To Irish Nation: Thank you for the best three years of my life playing football and for supporting me throughout my career,” Williams wrote on Twitter. “You guys have brought nothing but positivity to me, and I’m forever grateful.”

Williams leaves Notre Dame as just one of five players to rush for at least 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, a threshold he cleared with his final carry in a gold helmet, a 12-yard run to the end zone at Stanford.

Williams finished the season with 1,002 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, along with 359 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 42 catches.

He will forever be best remembered by Notre Dame fans for his 65-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against No. 1 Clemson in 2020 and his 91-yard stiff arm-and-dash cutback score against North Carolina earlier this season.

Projecting running backs into the NFL draft can be a fraught endeavor, but Williams should be a mid-round pick, somewhere between the second round and the fourth round. Given the shelf life on running back’s careers, spending as much of his in the NFL makes sense.

Without Williams, the Irish will turn to sophomore Chris Tyree and freshmen Logan Diggs and Audric Estime. As Tyree recovered from a turf toe injury throughout the second half of the season, Diggs became the primary backup to Williams. Watching the workload balance between the two of them against No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) could be a tip to how Notre Dame’s offense may look in 2022.

With both Williams and Hamilton making their decisions already, the biggest domino left for Notre Dame will be junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey’s plans. He could head to the NFL, perhaps as a second-or third-round pick, or he could try to build on his impressive 2021 and raise his draft profile further.