Written by: Alex McKinnon– Staff Writing Intern (@ )
DeAngelo Williams, 33, is one hell of a backup running back. The former Panther of eight years had a steady and successful career with Carolina between 2006 and 2014 highlighted by his 2008 campaign where he ran for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns with 121 yards and two touchdowns in the air. Unfortunately, after the 2008 season, Williams spent the next six season only accumulating 23 rushing and three receiving touchdowns and only averaging 686 yards per season. The Panthers then released Williams after the 2014 season who was then picked up by the Steelers for two years, four million dollars.
With the Steelers, Williams was initially expected to cover their tail during Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension to start the 2015-2016 season. Over those two games, Williams put together 204 yards over 41 carries along with five catches for 20 yards. Most notably, he punched in three rushing touchdowns in the Week 2 win against San Francisco. Bell then returned and dominated the carries for weeks 3-7 (103 attempts, 511 yards, 3 rushing touchdowns and 136 receiving yards). During that time, Williams received 13 attempts and only scraped together 36 with no scores.
Then, in Week 8, Le’Veon Bell went down with a gruesome knee injury quickly inserting Williams back into the primary back role. After a nice game, where he stepped in for Bell after he was injured, DeAngelo took off like a rocket, defying gravity. 137 carries, 597 yards, 8 touchdowns, 30 catches and 300 receiving yards. The question lies, was DeAngelo reacting to a good situation with a talented team or was he misused by Carolina for years.
Either way, Williams, at the age of 33, sure looks like a Top-five running back and proved it immediately during the 2016 opening weekend. On Monday Night Football, Williams rushed for 143 yards on 26 attempts with two touchdowns to pair with six catches for 28 yards. He’s a dual threat nightmare and was able to pull this unbelievable move to score his second TD of the game…
The O-Line opened up holes all night pic.twitter.com/Y7BzOMgvBy
— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) September 13, 2016
Do not mention DeAngelo’s age when describing his stellar running work. On PFT Live with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, DeAngelo pleaded to be referred to only as a running back…
Florio: “He wasn’t impressed that I mentioned that he’s 33.”
“Why can’t I just be a running back?” Williams said. “Why can’t I just be a running back? Why does my age have to play a part in the performance that I had last night? It ticks me off to hear people say, ‘Hey man, at your age you don’t look like you’re slowing down a bit.’ Like can I just be a football player? Why does the 33 age have to coincide with me when you talking football?”
Come on DeAngelo, how do we ignore your age? The mid-30s running back DOES.NOT.EXIST. Running backs have been relied on so heavily during the history of the sport, it is surprising when a running back, no matter how talented, survives past he is 30 in the league. For a guy that was heavily relied on in Carolina and who had a history of injury issues, it can’t come as a surprise that we are shocked at his production at his age.
Thankfully, this trend might be headed in the opposite direction. There is no longer the solo running back system in the NFL, and there are multiple reasons for that:
1) Defenses are bigger, faster, stronger and coaches are more intelligent and have access to a bevy of technology and information to where they can shut down an opposing running back by his tendencies and history.
2) Coaches finally realized that when you give the ball to a running back 35-40 times a game, he wears down easily and is often injured. This will shorten your franchise running back’s career and will force you to find replacements without any warning.
3) Running Backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield or lineup in a spread formation are critical wrinkles that are implemented in most coaches playbooks. Guys like Danny Woodhead, James White and Shane Vereen have a purpose in an offense and it takes away from the old-fashioned, antiquated all-down back.
This is why you see teams with anywhere from 2-4 ‘primary’ running backs in their system. It creates different looks and allows for an offense to have a ‘fresh’ back on the field on almost every down. The Redskins have 3 running backs that they rotate through, the Cardinals had Johnson, Johnson and Ellington last year and were successful, the Titans now have Murray and Henry. Even the most notable ‘do it myself’ running back, Adrian Peterson, has a set of reliable secondary guys in McKinnon (awesome name) and Asiata. Not only is this effective in the short-term, we will now see star running back’s careers extended and guys like DeAngelo Williams (at his age) will not be as surprising.
The question now remains…What will be the Steelers plan when Bell returns from his 3 game suspension? Le’Veon is often regarded as the most dynamic running back in the league because of his dual-threat abilities. Without a doubt, he will carry the load once he returns to the field, but is that the wisest move by the Steelers? When you know Bell has a history of injuries and will be returning from a traumatic ACL/LCL tear and with his personal issues, he is always at liberty to worry a front office about any possible future suspensions. Additionally, if Big Ben Roethlisberger is able to remain healthy this year, the Steelers are easily a top-three AFC team heading into the playoffs. The clear move is to split work between Williams and Bell when Le’Veon returns and not only will you lower the risk on Bell’s health, but the Steelers will then have two, relatively fresh running backs heading into the postseason.
And DeAngelo, please keep tweeting hilarious comments at internet trolls, juking defensemen to the moon, and killing it for a guy your age.