The NFL has progressively become a younger man’s game. Gone are the days when many players had careers well into their 30’s. These days it’s rare to see players make it even until 35 much less beyond. The wear and tear of playing football at the NFL level after a lifetime in the game is a lot for anyone to handle physically. That statement could not be truer for the position that takes more hits than any other, the running back.
The lifespan of the NFL running back has shortened to the point where most backs are looking for work at 30. Plenty of them are settling for sub par contracts even in their later 20’s just for a chance to prove that they still have something left to offer.
This year, Carolina Panthers’ running back DeAngelo Williams will be entering his ninth season at the age of 31. Many look no farther than his age before assuming that he can’t be any more than a situational back. That couldn’t be farther from the truth as it pertains to DeAngelo Williams specifically. He is not your typical 31-year-old tailback and he still has plenty to offer as a starter and playmaker.
Williams has been splitting carries for his entire career and that’s something that needs to be considered when evaluating his potential for the season. DeAngelo is a playmaker with the potential to make something happen every time he touches the ball, but he has never been “the guy”. In order to make plays you need to get consistent carries and DeAngelo has always been sharing the work load. DeAngelo hasn’t been fed the ball aggressively since 2008 when he had a career high 273 attempts. For those of you who remember he ran for 1,515 yards that season and scored 18 rushing touchdowns.
That was a dominant year for the Panthers thanks in large part to the efforts and talent of DeAngelo Williams.
He is, and always has been, capable of playing at that same level but just hasn’t been used in the same capacity. He had a good 2009 but missed 3 games due to injury. No need to mention 2010, it was a nightmare for everyone involved. Since Cam Newton arrived in 2011 the Panthers offense has been different. For two years under Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski, the offense focused much more heavily on the pass. DeAngelo was lucky to get even ten carries per game in 2011 and 2012. Last year was a bit different under the new OC Mike Shula. The former QB coach ran a much more conservative offense that utilized DeAngelo more. He didn’t have a spectacular year in 2013, averaging only 4.2 yards a carry but he kept the chains moving and he made more than a few big plays.
The Panthers will look to focus on clock control and extending drives this season, just as they did last year. In order to do that you have to have a heavy dose of running and that’s what the Panthers are set up for. As things stand right now heading into the season The Panthers are not built for long passes and elaborate plays on offense. The offensive line is thick in the middle and thin on the outside. If Cam drops back to pass he won’t have much time to look down field because the edges will be closing in on him.
Running will be a strength for the Panthers offense because it will keep defenses honest and give Cam more opportunity when it’s time to pass. Carolina will continue to run a rotating running back system with Williams, Mike Tolbert, and hopefully a healthy Jonathan Stewart. At 31 years old DeAngelo can still be the best of this bunch and will quite possibly surprise a lot of people.
Take a look at how DeAngelo Williams compares to other running backs in the league based on age and career carries:
Name Age Career Carries
The number of times a running back carries the ball throughout his career can take a toll on him physically. The more carries he gets, the more hits he sustains, and the longevity of his career is thrown into jeopardy. The players on defense are only getting bigger, stronger, and faster every year. They hit with the force of metric tons.
Notice who has the lowest number on that list?
These statistics show that by comparison DeAngelo has a lot of tread left on his tires and age won’t be the same factor for him that it is for some of these other guys. In the coming season there will be plenty written about the age of DeAngelo Williams and how it translates to his potential production.
He will be suggested as a bust draft pick by fantasy insiders, they will tell you he is trending down, and not to draft him. This may be good advice from a fantasy standpoint but fantasy football and real football are two different things entirely on Sundays. Don’t be fooled by people who simply look at things on the surface. When you lift up the hood and look underneath you see that there is still plenty of life in this engine.
DeAngelo Williams might not be the hottest fantasy football draft pick but fantasy football means nothing when it comes to winning and losing as a football team. Whether you are sitting on your couch or somewhere in the stands this upcoming season, you better get on your feet when 34 gets his hands on the ball, because he still has plenty of potential to make things happen.