DeAngelo Williams (Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports)
PITTSBURGH -- Every year, Pittsburgh Steelers players vote on a team MVP. This year, Antonio Brown won the award, becoming the fourth three-time recipient in Steelers history. Everyone knows Brown's value, and we've written about Brown a ton in this space. But it occurred to me that DeAngelo Williams made a compelling case for at least a few MVP votes internally.
At 32, Williams' pace as a starter crosses 1,400 yards: Williams currently has 899 rushing yards after nine games as a starter and six games as Le'Veon Bell's backup. But in those nine starts, Williams has 793 rushing yards, or 88.1 per game. Spread over 15 games, that's 1,322 yards, which would have placed him just behind Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin in the current rushing title race, a firm third place and 200-plus yards ahead of the rest of the pack. That's 1,410 over 16 games, plus at least 354 receiving yards. There's no reason why Williams couldn't have pushed the 2,000 total offense threshold for rushing and receiving, which he never did in nine seasons in Carolina.
Even without those projections, Williams has a chance to become the first 32-year-old back to surpass 1,000 yards since Ricky Williams in 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Browns are the league's worst team defending the run, so Williams just might do it.
He's valuable in other areas: Williams is an excellent pass-blocker. I thought the Steelers went empty backfield a lot because of their prolific passing game, but when I started watching closely, I noticed Williams is often in the backfield on passing downs. The Steelers believe he's their best chip blocker. That's a big deal. Williams wasn't known as a potent receiver in Carolina, but he fit right in with the Steelers' passing game. He can flare out wide or handle screen passes for positive yards.
He allowed the Steelers to stay true to their identity: The 2014 Steelers had no answer when Le'Veon Bell went down with a knee injury in Week 17. They had already released LaGarrette Blount, so the post-Bell tailback lineup was Ben Tate, Dri Archer and Josh Harris. None of those three is on an NFL roster right now. The lack of depth contributed mightily to the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. With Williams, the Steelers didn't have to change. Bell is arguably the game's best running back, so of course Pittsburgh misses him. But Williams has handled his share of playmaking. And he's potent in the red zone with 11 rushing touchdowns, helping an offense that sometimes stalls from inside the 20.