When the Pittsburgh Steelers locked in free agent running back DeAngelo Williams to a two-year, $4 million contract, the general understanding was that it was a very shrewd and efficient signing, particularly with Le’Veon Bell set to serve a suspension of as of then undetermined length to begin the season.
I doubt that anybody imagined just how utterly valuable the 32-year-old running back would become to the Steelers in their bid to make a playoff run, or that that reality would even be possible without their All-Pro running back.
In that spirit, Pro Football Focus gave Williams the nod as one of the 10 best free agent signings based on value per productivity through the first 13 weeks of the season. He came in listed in the fifth spot, behind Buffalo guard Richie Incognito, Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, Raiders defensive tackle Dan Williams, and Broncos guard Evan Mathis. On Williams, they wrote:
Williams has seen a rebirth in his game this season, stepping in for the injured Le’Veon Bell (94.0 overall grade) to post the sixth-best grade among RBs through 12 games. He has been the highest-graded running back in the NFL in weeks where Bell was either injured or suspended, all while being one of two qualifying RBs to not allow a pressure in pass protection over the first 12 weeks.
The fact that the site rates Williams as sixth-highest among all running backs is a testament to how well he has played, considering that, while he has been a participant in all 12 games, his participation was limited in half of them while Bell was active and healthy.
No doubt his value through the first 13 weeks would have been rated higher as well had he been the starter all season, as is the case for the four players listed above him. While his production as a backup was limited, he has been highly successful in the starting role.
On the season, Williams has compiled 697 yards on 141 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, while scoring six rushing touchdowns. He’s added another 256 yards on 25 receptions. The vast majority of that production has come in his six starts.
In those games alone, he has carried the ball 119 times for 591 yards, averaging five yards per carry, and all six of his touchdowns have come in those games. He is averaging about 20 carries for 98.5 yards and a touchdown per start, and has three 100-yard rushing games.
This is not even to mention his excellent work in pass protection, which, as PFF noted, is one of his defining traits as one of two starting running backs who have yet to allow a quarterback pressure this season. He has also put multiple defenders on their backs with his chip blocks.
It simply cannot be understated how important Williams has been to this Steelers team, which has gone 4-2 in his starts. The recognition from PFF relative to the rest of the league just helps put into perspective how much Pittsburgh has benefited from his signing.