Football should be examined in a vacuum
It's an axiom I've heard scores of times while writing about the NFL. Unlike other sports where tangible production can be compared over eras, there's a determined belief that we can't apply these principles in the NFL where statistics become malleable as soon as you apply one simple variable like receiver contact past ten yards. All of a sudden it becomes as impossible to compare Johnny Unitas to Peyton Manning, as it would to compare LeBron James to an NBA player competing in the pre shot-clock era.
This week we were given a truly transcendent statistic that stunned a vast majority of football fans. I'm talking of course about our own DeAngelo Williams, and the comparison between his NFL career thus far and living legend Jim Brown. This from Michael Tanier of Football Outsiders:
"DeAngelo Williams is 4 carries away from joining Jim Brown as the only players in history with 1,000 career carries and over 5 yards per carry"
Obviously Brown and Williams are very different running backs. The former played in an era where the entire game was moving through the ball carrier, and he reached 1,000 career carries in just over four seasons- the definition of a ‘workhorse back'. Williams is a very different monster as he started his career as a change of pace back with DeShaun Foster, and since he's spent much of his career rotating in and out of the lineup with Jonathan Stewart.
More after the jump
Conventional wisdom labeled Marty Hurney a fool for paying Williams as much as he did with his 2011 extension, but it's hard to argue with the decision when you see him held in contrast to a legend like Jim Brown. Sure, it will ultimately take him a shade over six seasons to hit his 1,000 carry mark, but his 5.4 yard per carry average in 2011, coupled with over 850 yards rushing and 7 TDs in a rotational role shows he hasn't lost a step. Despite this though there's a distinct separation between D-Will and many fans, who prefer to keep him at arm's length. The hesitance by fans to fully embrace Williams is based on three key factors:
- The belief money could have been spent better elsewhere
- The lack of faith in a 29 year old running back to remain elite
- The fear that this could lead to losing Jonathan Stewart, who some believe to be even better than Williams
It's hard to argue with any one of these three facts. Yes, the Panthers probably could have benefitted more from giving the money spent to a solid pass rusher, odds aren't on the side of a 29 year old running back, and Jonathan Stewart could very well be the better back. When it's all said and done though how can you argue with the production Williams has brought to the Panthers? He's now a key element in Carolina's latest wrinkle- the option play. Finally, he's the consummate teammate and a wonderful member of the community, things that can't be quantified on box scores, or valuated with dollars and cents.
My suggestion to fans of the Carolina Panthers who get too worked up by the contract, or the dollars and cents: Enjoy DeAngelo Williams for what he is. Just because we all have the ability to play armchair GM, doesn't mean we always should- especially when it causes us to lose the forest for the trees. The reason the comparison to Jim Brown seems so shocking is that Williams has been under our nose this whole time. I don't pretend to know what the future holds for the Panthers backfield; it appears they're very concerned about losing Jonathan Stewart to free agency, but it's really hard to hate Williams the player, even if you don't love the contract. I'm excited to see what happens over time, and I'll be screaming as loud as anyone when D-Will joins Brown in the annals of NFL history.