Running back DeAngelo Williams was a tremendous asset for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. The team is hoping that is not the case this season, because in order for him to serve in a capacity that would put him in that position would mean that Le’Veon Bell was not available for one reason or another.
What they did learn last season, however, is that Williams’ complete skill set, from running, to catching, to blocking, gives the offense the sort of truly legitimate option that many teams around the league do not have the luxury to possess. He did, after all, tie for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11 in spite of the fact that he only started 10 games.
Indeed, 2015 was not only a very good season for Williams, it was also one of his best, during which he rushed for 907 yards on 200 attempts, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. With Ben Roethlisberger at his disposal, he set career highs with 40 receptions and 367 receiving yards, although he did not add to his career total of seven receiving touchdowns.
The one area that is not so quantifiable through basic statistics, however, and one that has plagued, for example, offensive linemen from receiving their deserved accolades, is, of course, blocking, and that is an area in which he visibly excelled last year as well.
Some analysts have come to use the ‘statistic’ of ‘pancakes’ to consider linemen, a pancake being instances in which a blocker puts a defending player on the ground. This is not typically the goal of running backs when they are sitting back in pass protection, in which their primary role is often to pick up a late blitzer to provide assistance if a pass rusher is beginning to come loose from his blocker.
Yet Williams managed even a few of those for himself last year, perhaps most notably against the Raiders when he chipped outside linebacker Aldon Smith before going out for a pass, the end result being that he was put on his back. Of course, Smith later sacked Roethlisberger and injured the quarterback’s foot in that game.
While Williams’ success in this area has been noted frequently by observers such as the staff here at Steelers Depot—we have provided a number of gifs of his work in pass protection in weekly breakdowns, for example—it was nice to see recently that Pro Football Focus also recognized what he accomplished last year.
The statistics website Tweeted out yesterday that in their data, Williams graded out the best among all running backs last season in pass protection. Coincidentally, the second-place running back was his long-time teammate, Jonathan Stewart, which might say something about the Panthers’ running backs coach.
James Saxon deserves a lot of credit as well, however, and the Steelers as a whole. I recall that the veteran running back did not fare particularly well during his first taste of the team’s backs-on-backers drill in training camp, which was evidently something the Panthers had not done. He may have been taken off-guard initially in that drill, but he showed during the season that he was willing and able to stick his nose into any defender who looks to get into the Steelers’ backfield and win.