Devil’s Advocate: DeAngelo Williams Encore As Bell’s Backup

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Should the Steelers re-sign DeAngelo Williams as Le’Veon Bell’s backup for another season?

As of the first week of April, veteran running back DeAngelo Williams has seemingly had no activity whatsoever in free agency from any teams—a not altogether shocking reality for a player at that position who will be turning 34 in less than two weeks.

But it would be hard to argue against the fact that Williams has been the team’s most dependable and successful backup running back in a good, long time. He was called upon to start a pair of season openers—plus three other games—due to suspensions for Le’Veon Bell, and he performed well to very well in most of those games.

During the 2015 season, after Bell suffered a knee injury, he ended up starting a total of 10 games, rushing for 907 yards on just 200 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and tying for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns. He also put up the best receiving numbers of his career with 40 receptions for 367 yards.

But that seems like a long time ago if we recall the DeAngelo Williams that played for much of the latter stages of the 2017 season, during which he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, though he did still manage to produce touchdowns—six, including two receiving touchdowns, and another in limited playoff action—when given the opportunity.

He started off the season superbly, having one of the best games of his career, arguably, rushing for 143 yards on26 carries with two rushing touchdowns. But that is one of only two games in which he averaged at least three yards per carry. He averaged 2.9 a week later on 32 carries, and 2.6 on eight carries the week after that.

Still, those games came against some stout run defenses, and we can chalk up much of his late-season showing to the knee injury that he dealt with. Overall, Williams was probably more successful during the year than his yards-per-carry figure would indicate.

But we are also dealing with a running back who has had relatively significant injuries in each of the past three seasons now, and running back more than any other position, even cornerback, can see sudden drops in production.

The Steelers seem destined to draft a running back in the draft at this point, but if they don’t, we are looking at Knile Davis as Bell’s backup—that, or re-sign Williams and hope that there is still some tread on the tires. And there is always a risk in expecting a rookie to play any sort of role right away.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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