The NFL's 'Williams Factor'

Posted June 08, 2011 @ 10:55 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Where there's a Williams, there's a way.

A way to do what, you ask?

With not much else going on for the time being except scattered players-only workouts — and the sincere hope that meaningful under-the-radar powwows among the NFL's powers-that-be have only just begun — I have come up with a column that drops a lot of NFL names and touches on a surprising number of topics.

All of which revolve around one very familiar last name.

In case you didn't know, there are currently 57 active NFL players with the last name "Williams," according to — from second-round rookie CB Aaron Williams of the Buffalo Bills to sixth-round rookie C Zack Williams of the Carolina Panthers.

That's eight more than NFL players with the last name "Johnson," 18 more than those with the last name "Smith" and 31 more than those with the last name "Jones."

Fascinated yet? Hey, I'm just getting started.

Believe it or not, there are twice as many NFC players named Williams than AFC players (38-19). There is much less of a disparity, however, between offensive players with the last name Williams (30) and defensive players with the last name Williams (27).

There are also eight rookies and 13 potential free agents that share the same last name with baseball greats Ted and Billy Williams, famous playwright Tennessee Williams, comedian/actor Robin Williams, and actresses Michelle and Vanessa Williams, among others.

What would have been really fun is to have put together a Pro Football Weekly "All-Williams" team, but the lack of any candidate at the all-important QB position put the kibosh on that concept.

So let's ponder the following 10 Williams-related questions instead, and see where it leads us:

1. Just how big a NFL star has Texans DE Mario Williams become?

I think we can all agree that former Texans GM Charley Casserly ended up making the right decision selecting Williams ahead of Reggie Bush and Vince Young in the 2006 draft. That said, Williams' sack totals have decreased every season since his high-water mark of 14 in '07, in great part due to injuries (he had 8½ sacks in 13 games before leaving the lineup with a season-ending sports hernia injury last year). After initially envisioning Williams as another Bruce Smith in his 3-4 scheme, new Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips changed his tune after the draft, deciding that Williams would be a better fit as a king-sized version of Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware on the weak side. The big rap on Williams by many league observers is that he doesn't play hard all the time. Entering his contract year, though, he figures to go full throttle on every snap for a defense that needs to step it up to be a legitimate factor in the AFC South.

2. Was there a bigger breakthrough player last season than Packers CB Tramon Williams?

A street free agent in 2006, Williams, who was given a well-deserved contract extension in late November, made a quantum leap in his fourth season, playing as well, if not better, than any cornerback in the NFC. After leading the Super Bowl champion Packers with six interceptions and 23 passes defensed in the regular season, Williams further elevated his game in the postseason with three interceptions, including a game-clinching pick vs. Philadelphia and a back-breaking 70-yard TD vs. Atlanta. Displaying great consistency, he allowed only one TD pass all year and was called for only one penalty the entire regular season. He also has yet to have an injury in four seasons. If he isn't a perennial Pro Bowler for the rest of his career, I don't know who is.

3. Are free-agent RB DeAngelo Williams' days numbered in Carolina?

As is the case with quite a few players at the moment, it could depend on Williams' actual free-agent designation. If the league reverts back to 2009 rules, Williams will be unrestricted, increasing the likelihood that he will leave the Panthers. That would leave the Panthers' backfield with former first-rounder Jonathan Stewart; Mike Goodson, who showed he could play a little last season; and Tyrell Sutton. But if last year's rules apply, Williams would be restricted. He received a first- and third-round tender from the Panthers, and it's doubtful any team would consider giving up anything close to that for a player coming off a season-ending foot injury that limited him to six games. Then again, we are talking about a 28-year-old player who scored 20 TDs (18 rushing, two receiving) only three seasons ago and has an impressive 5.0 career yards-per-carry average.

4. Is Dolphins RB Ricky Williams preparing to move on to higher pursuits?

It's hard to believe Ricky Williams has become an NFL senior citizen, apparently having reached the end of the line at the age of 34. In my mind's eye, I can still see him standing next to Mike Ditka in that goofy wedding dress after Ditka traded all of his 1999 draft picks as the Saints head coach in order to select Williams with the fifth overall pick. What strikes me most about Williams is how gracefully I believe he aged in the twilight of his career after being such a whack job for so long. Williams didn't receive nearly enough credit for his outstanding 1,121-yard, 13-TD 2009 campaign. Suffice it to say, I will be keeping tabs on his life after football, which I have no doubt will be more interesting than most.

5. Will Cardinals second-round draft pick Ryan Williams immediately become the team's featured back? 

No matter how you cut it, Arizona's backfield just doesn't add up. With former first-round draft pick Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright already in the mix, it still seems like the Cardinals could have filled a much greater need than another running back with their first pick in Round Two. Unless, of course, they believe Williams is a really special running back capable of providing an immediate impact. If I were Ken Whisenhunt, I'd be more than a little concerned about Williams' reckless running style and shaky injury history — as if the Cardinals' head coach didn't already have enough problems in the desert.

6. Which Mike Williams will be a more productive fantasy wideout: the one in Seattle, or the one in Tampa Bay?

Before proclaiming the Buccaneers' Mike Williams a no-brainer fantasy selection ahead of the Seahawks' Mike Williams — on PFW's most recent 2011 fantasy draftboard, they are ranked 12th and 35th, respectively, among wide receivers — you might want to take a little closer look at the Seahawks' pass catcher. It's worth noting that Seattle's Mike Williams actually played hurt much of the time in what turned out to be a breakthrough 2010 campaign. He missed two games due to an ankle injury and had other ailments (sore shoulder, broken finger) that forced him to miss his fair share of action in other games. With better health, most close observers believe he could have caught 80-85 passes and topped 1,000 yards. He has made a concerted effort to lose a few pounds this offseason in an effort to be more explosive. That's not to say he will do better than the Bucs' Mike Williams, who had a team-high 964 yards receiving and 11 TDs as a rookie last season. In my fantasy world, though, the Williams in Seattle is worthy of being considered a top-25 wideout.     

7. Has the 'Williams Wall' crumbled for good in Minnesota?

Not completely. With 14 seasons under his industrial-sized belt, free-agent NT Pat Williams really does appear to have reached the end of the line in Minnesota, although it remains to be seen just how decent a replacement the Vikings can come up with on the nose (fourth-round rookie Christian Ballard and third-year pro Letroy Guiton are two possibilities). Fellow DT Kevin Williams, however, should be back in his familiar three-technique role, although it's quite likely he could be suspended for the first four games of the 2011 season for taking StarCaps, a banned diuretic substance, back in 2008. Kevin Williams, who turns 31 in August, can still make his presence felt, even though he had only one sack last season, which was a career low. But the Vikings' once-dominant interior defensive line looks extremely ordinary all of the sudden, especially when compared to division rival Detroit's upstart DT duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

8. Should former Bears first-round draft choice Chris Williams be considered a bust?

Williams was envisioned as the Bears' blind-side protector at left tackle for the next decade when he was drafted in the first round in 2008. Whether it was because of his short arms, nagging injuries, alarming inconsistency, or a combination of all three, he appears to have settled into a much more mundane role at left guard, where his play was serviceable but soft last season. Quite frankly, I think he might have reached his ceiling, which, unfortunately for the Bears, was never real high to begin with.  

9.Will WR Roy Williams still be a factor in the Cowboys' offense?

Sources close to the team believe there's a 50-50 chance Williams will be back with the Cowboys this season. In one sense, he shapes up as a very solid third receiver behind Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. But he will never do enough to justify the major price the Cowboys paid to obtain him — first-, third- and sixth-round picks to Detroit, plus $26 million in guaranteed money to Williams, in mid-October 2008. A key could be whether or not Williams would agree to a pretty significant restructuring of his contract.

10. Will Cadillac Williams ride off into the sunset in Tampa Bay?

Here's another free-agent running back who has probably seen his better days but still has a lot to offer in a more complementary role. Will Cadillac continue to complement LeGarrette Blount, who came out of nowhere for the upstart Bucs last season? Williams really came on as a pass catcher in 2010. It will be interesting to see if he catches on with another team as a No. 2 back with a more substantial role than he would have in Tampa Bay, where he really has become more like a very dependable Toyota.