Confident, so confident, Richard Williams smiles these days like a young man whose career has, once again, reached first and 10.

"When I found out I was coming here," said the Washington Redskins rookie running back, a 6-foot, 210-pound slab of granite, "I was a happy soul."

Sure, if you sit Williams down, during this week of the Redskins' minicamp at Redskin Park, and ask him about his knotty career at Memphis State, he'll tell you all of the fickle facts:

He'll explain that he broke the fibula bone in his left leg twice, and that in his five college years (the first a redshirt) he went through five running back coaches for a team that compiled a 13-42 overall record, and how injury reduced his college career to just 227 carries for 1,092 yards.

"But," he adds, "the Redskins drafted me in the second round (56th overall). They must have seen something."

The Redskins say they saw a player of potential. They tested Williams, 22, at the scouting combine trials in Tampa back in February. Later, they sent various team officials, including the running back coach, Don Breaux, to further test Williams in Memphis.

They liked what they saw. They saw speed in this back who ran a 9.65 100-yard dash in high school in Eustis, Fla. They saw power in this back who ran for 189 yards in three quarters against Georgia Tech in his sophomore year, then for 100 yards two weeks later against Louisville, before leg injury No. 1.

And no, the Redskins say they did not play peekaboo about his injuries. They saw those, too.

"He has had injuries, but we've done a lot of checking and everything checks out," said Bobby Beathard, the Redskins general manager who in building a Super Bowl champion also has built himself a reputation for accuracy and shrewdness on draft day.

"He's a big, fast breakaway-type back. That certainly was one of our priorities . . . We picked him in the second round because it was difficult to imagine he'd still be there by our next pick."

In his own defense, Williams says, "There are some things that people must look at. I didn't miss one game or one practice last year. Some players let their injuries linger. I didn't."

To listen to Williams describe his leg injuries is to understand why carrying the football best be left to the gentlemen of brutish persuasion.

"The first time I got hurt, was during my sophomore year (1980)," Williams said. "I got hit out of bounds. I was trying to keep away from the cheerleaders on the sideline when I got hit. My left knee went to the ground, but my foot stayed straight. My foot was just hanging there, behind me. I had to hit it two or three times to snap it back into place. I spent eight or nine weeks in a cast."

During a 1981 spring scrimmage, before his junior year, Williams reinjured the leg: he cracked the leg fibula one inch higher than the first time. "My spikes caught in when I was making a cutback and about eight guys fell on top of me. I guess the first injury wasn't fully healed yet. I was in a cast for seven more weeks."

Last year, the fibula stayed in place and Williams stayed in Memphis State's veer/I-formation backfield all year. He gained 480 yards on 89 carries for a team that finished 1-10. "He is one of the guys who, once he gets out in front," said Murray Armstrong, a Memphis State assistant, "he gets faster."

Which brings us to 1983, away from 1-10 and on to first and 10. Williams was the seventh running back selected in this NFL draft. Selected before him were Eric Dickerson (No. 2), Curt Warner (No. 3), Michael Haddix (No. 8), James Jones (No. 13), Roger Craig (No. 49) and Johnny Hector (No. 51).

Even if one were to tack on Kelvin Bryant, Tim Spencer and Craig James, the three running backs who likely would have been drafted before Williams had they not already opted for the United States Football League, that still makes Williams the 10th running back chosen. The Redskins see something.

Breaux says Williams' place in the Redskins' offense, one-back or otherwise, likely will be that of a "role player" at the start. "Maybe he'll spell (John) Riggins some. A lot depends on (the recovery of) Joe Washington," Breaux said. "He (Williams) bounces off players and he seems to have that special knack for falling forward."

With a rookie's bravado, Williams said, "I'm a pretty strong back. I'm versatile. I can run, catch. I can throw it occasionally, too."

The bravado fades fast, though, when Williams is asked about his Redskins' uniform, No. 31. "I wore No. 32 in college, but (cornerback) Vernon Dean has it here and he kidded me that I'd have to fight him to take it from him.

"I wore No. 44 in high school," Williams said. Almost impishly, he added, "But you know whose number that is. And Riggins is a pretty good-sized guy, you know."