DeAngelo Williams is all about being, as he calls it, a “one-stop shop.”
It’s why, before the Pittsburgh Steelers running back ever set foot on an NFL field, he “did everything” as a delivery boy for Pizza Hut as a high schooler in 2000.
It’s why the former first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers has totaled more than 10,000 yards from scrimmage in his 11 years in the NFL.
And it’s why he’s giving the Atlanta Falcons’ running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman the edge in Super Bowl LI on Sunday.
Freeman had 1,079 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 227 carries during the regular season, along with 54 catches for 462 yards and two touchdowns. Coleman had 118 carries for 520 yards and eight touchdowns, plus 31 catches for 421 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 2,502 combined yards. The Falcons have used both interchangeably all season long, lining them up in the backfield or out wide.
“They can run the ball and they can catch out of the backfield,” Williams told Newsday during a phone interview Friday promoting his appearance in a series of Pizza Hut Combine videos on YouTube. “So they’re just as effective running the ball as they are catching it.”
The Patriots, on the other hand, have more defined roles for their running backs. LeGarrette Blount, their early-down bruiser, had 1,161 yards and a franchise-record 18 touchdowns, but only seven catches for 38 yards. Dion Lewis, their third-down receiving back, was on hurt for most of the season but still had 17 catches for 94 yards in five regular-season games and caught a touchdown in New England’s divisional-round win over the Houston Texans.
“Blount’s a dynamic runner, but I don’t know what he looks like out of the backfield in his route running, in terms of throwing the ball,” Williams said. “So they’d have to bring Dion Lewis in to do those things, whereas the Atlanta Falcons, both of those guys that they have in the backfield can do that.”
Williams would know about versatility – in addition to being quite the complete back himself, he backed up one of the NFL’s best in Le’Veon Bell, who had 1,884 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns in just 12 games.
“He does a lot of things that a lot of other running backs don’t and can’t do,” Williams said of Bell. “For starters, he takes every play. A lot of running backs can’t do that, whether it’s a 20-yard run, 30-yard run, and come back and give you 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 yards and keeps going. And not only that, he puts his hand in in the route-running and passing game. You’ve got to account for that, so you’ve got to either go nickel or get you a really good linebacker that can play the passing game out of the backfield.”
It’s not just Bell’s on-field ability that Williams appreciates, either. The 34-year-old Williams is eight years, nine months and 25 days older than Bell, but he’s picked up quite a bit from young All-Pro about being a three-down back.
“He takes every snap in the game, and what do I do last year and this year when he was out? I take almost every snap in the game, with the exception of two or three, because that’s the precedent that he’s set,” Williams said. “That’s the way that he trains and that’s the way that we train, because we don’t want to fall off when he’s not in there, as a team, as an offense. Because Le’Veon does what he does, they don’t require us to do that, we pick up what he does and we go off of what he does.”
Williams will be a free agent when the new league year begins in March. Both the Giants and Jets could use an every-down running back such as Williams, and while he said he hasn’t thought about what’ll happen next, he did say that he’ll have Bell to thank for helping him become a better player.
“I’m gonna take a lot of things that Le’Veon taught me in terms of conditioning myself,” Williams said, “being able to take every play whether I have to take every play or not.”