Williams ready to make big impactBy Len Pasquarelli
Built like a quarter horse but employed as a workhorse, tailback DeAngelo Williams averaged 22.1 carries per game during his celebrated four-year tenure at the University of Memphis. He registered 30 or more rushes in 10 of 23 outings in his final two years, but missed only three contests due to injuries.
So at just 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, can a guy with the low-slung physique of, well, a fire hydrant provide a spark for the rushing attack of some NFL franchise in desperate need of a top-shelf runner? Just as critical, can the durable Williams, who played in 44 college games and finished his career as the all-time Division I-A leader in all-purpose real estate (7,337 yards), hold up over the rigors of an NFL season?
DeAngelo Williams rushed for 1,959 yards last season for Memphis.Arguably the best running back in the 2006 draft that most serious fans have never even seen play, and a virtual unknown to casual observers, Williams doesn't see why not.
"Sure, I think I can do it, and I'm prepared to do it," said Williams, who could be the second tailback taken in the first round, after Southern California star and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush is selected early in the proceedings. "I mean, the football isn't any heavier in the NFL, is it?"
No, but then again, Williams isn't especially big, either. The thing is, though, his skills are big-time. And there are scouts who rate Williams, almost as universally respected off the field as he is on it, as the best pure runner in the 2006 talent pool. Bush is certainly an electrifying talent, a touchdown waiting to happen, a player who can get the crowd on its feet. But the ever-productive Williams, who ranked among the nation's top five rushers in each of his final three college seasons, can do some things with his own feet that will get him into the secondary, and the end zone.
In his case, good things can come in small packages, although Williams isn't exactly an undersized back.
"He's kind of what everyone is looking for now, the guy who zips around like an expensive little sports-car model, built low to the ground, [with] great handling and quick moves," said San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who coached the South squad for which Williams played in the Senior Bowl college all-star game three months ago.
Indeed, size should not be much of a factor in analyzing Williams, whose low center of gravity, balance, vision and instinct should make him an instant success in a league where his kind of build is becoming the norm at the tailback position. Sure, there are teams and offenses that still prefer the big back who can slam the ball between the tackle, the human wrecking ball who physically erodes defenses. But consider this: The average size of the top 10 NFL rushers in 2005 was 5-10Â¼ and 214.8 pounds.
The league is being taken over by more compact tailbacks such as the New York Giants' Tiki Barber, Dallas' Julius Jones, Pittsburgh's Willie Parker and Atlanta's Warrick Dunn.
Said Nolan of Williams: "Hey, he's not a small man, not by any means. He's just not a tall man, that's all."
Williams has actually dropped a few pounds in the offseason, after playing his senior season at 218 pounds, a weight at which he acknowledged he felt sluggish. And he has noted, as he meets more NFL tailbacks, that they are more of his ilk sizewise -- he can look most of them square in the eye.
"I don't want to say the big back is extinct in the NFL, but look around, and what do you see?" Williams said. "You see a lot of runners now in that 205- to 210-pound range. And you see guys who can do a lot of different things. Me, I don't really try to describe my style, because that limits you in your own mind. My game is instinctive. People say to me, 'DeAngelo, what do you feel when you're running, man? What do you hear when you score a touchdown?' Well, you don't feel or hear anything, because you're just reacting. I do what works for me, given the situation, and I don't ever try to explain it."
He doesn't need to, because the numbers that Williams rang up in four years at Memphis speak volumes for what he accomplished there and define just how productive a runner he has been. He carried 969 times for 6,026 yards and 55 touchdowns, and added 70 catches for 723 yards and five scores. His 34 games of 100 yards or more tie him with former Heisman Trophy winners Tony Dorsett and Archie Griffin for the most in a career. Williams registered nine outings with 200 or more yards, three with 250-plus yards. His 6,026 rushing yards are the fourth-most in Division I-A history.
But let's put his rushing yards in even more perspective for this year's draft: Williams has an edge of more than 2,000 yards over every other top-ranked tailback in the 2006 pool. His rushing total is just 302 yards less than the combined rushing yards of Bush and fellow Southern Cal tailback LenDale White.
Taking nothing away from any of the other premier backs in this year's draft, but none of them can touch his numbers, and few of them are as good a pure runner. Of seven personnel directors or general managers surveyed this week, five listed Williams as the No. 2 tailback prospect in this year's draft.
"I don't want to say the big back is extinct in the NFL, but look around, and what do you see? You see a lot of runners now in that 205- to 210-pound range. And you see guys who can do a lot of different things. Me, I don't really try to describe my style, because that limits you in your own mind. My game is instinctive."
DeAngelo Williams, former Memphis RB
Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, whose team met recently with Williams, compared him to San Diego Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson. That was humbling for Williams, but the Memphis star is not inclined to liken his game to that of anyone else, or to emulate another player's style. The tailback he most watched when he was growing up was Texas' Ricky Williams, to whom he is not related. But he never found himself keeping track of Ricky Williams' rushing totals at Texas. Instead, he tabulated the number of defenders' collarbones that Williams snapped during his Longhorns career.
That should tell the scouts something about DeAngelo Williams' toughness as a runner.
"I'm not saying that I want to hurt people, but I do think I run with power," said Williams, who has been clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40. "But I also run smart. You don't have to hit a home run every time at the plate. The thing we stressed at Memphis is to run for first downs, to keep drives alive, that eight first downs is the same as an 80-yard run. They always told me, 'Live to play the next game.' So while I don't try to avoid contact, never, I think, instinctively, I know how to not take as many big hits. You take six or eight big hits a game and, the next thing you know, your legs are gone. That's why running backs have such short career expectancies. I want to play 12-13 years, not just five or six. I'd like to be around for a while."
Sticking around is something Williams has become adept at. He nearly left Memphis after his junior season, when he broke his leg in a bowl game, and scouts told him he would still be a first-round choice. But Williams loves the college game and the native of Little Rock, Ark., loves his adopted hometown of Memphis as well.
"Take away the football, the celebrity stuff, and I'd still want to be here," Williams said. "It has everything I want. When I'm done with football, I'll still live here, because it's a great place for me."
Williams has done his share to make it a better place. He has been lauded for his charitable endeavors in the community. Twice Williams has won scholar-athlete awards from bowl games he appeared in. Last year, a national foundation honored him for his combined accomplishments as a player, student and good sportsman. Next month, Williams will earn his degree in marketing management.
There is, Williams allowed, a natural passion about him, a self-motivational force that drives him in every challenge he accepts.
"A lot of players, they just perform when the lights come on, you know?" Williams said. "I want to be good even when no one is watching, no matter what it is I'm doing."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer fo
Sometimes running the Mularkey offense makes me feel like I'm in a prison.