Why Carolina Panthers Need DeAngelo Williams to Have a Breakout Year

Charles EdwardsContributor IMay 29, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 09:   DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Carolina Panthers runs for a touchdown during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There was a time when the sky was the limit for Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams.  He was a first round pick (27th overall) in the 2006 draft and from then to 2009 saw his stock climb. 

However, the wheels have seemingly come off since.  Once a upon a time, Williams was a feared member of the tandem of Double Trouble, teaming up with fellow running back Jonathan Stewart to establish one of the best one-two punches out of an NFL backfield.

Things haven’t been the same since the close of the 2009 season.

That was the last time he broke over a 1,000 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns in a year.  While he has matched his number of end zone visits since then, the closest Williams has been to the 1,000-yard mark was 2011 when he rushed for 836 yards.

Last year, despite appearing in all 16 games and having 18 more carries, he only rushed for 737 yards and scored five times, with two of those scores coming in the last game of the season.  Also, it should be noted that Williams took his game to another level in the season finale against New Orleans by rushing for 210 yards.  Take that game away and his season production looks sub-par at best.

When the offseason began, many people felt the end was near for DeAngelo Williams in Carolina.  It wasn’t until he restructured his contract earlier this month that his future became a little clearer.  Now that he will be returning this season, he needs to prove his worth to the team in 2013.

Williams’ best year was in 2008 when he rushed for 1,515 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.  He has come close to that mark only once when he rushed for 1,117 yards and seven scores the following season.

A combination of injuries and changes to the Carolina game plan has kept him as a non-factor since 2009.  He appeared in only six games in 2010 and was lost for the remainder of the season in what was possibly the team’s worst offensive showing ever. 

Following the selection of Cam Newton as the team’s new quarterback in 2011, the offensive scheme shifted in favor of a spread offense heavily utilizing the read option.  It didn’t help that Newton was responsible for a good bulk of the Panthers' running game.  He even led the team in that department last year with 741.

There is hope on the horizon for Williams to make a return to prominence as one of the league’s best running backs. 

The team has made no secret about wanting to return to a run-oriented offense which would take advantage of the team’s insanely rich running back depth.  Behind Williams will be Stewart, who will most likely split carries with him once again, fullback Mike Tolbert, who will be the primary weapon inside the red zone, and rookie Kenjon Barner, who could see a few snaps with the offense.  Essentially, this favors Williams.

If he is to be successful, it may justify the money he will be owed in 2014 and keep him with the Panthers long enough to negotiate a new deal that is favorable to both him and the team.  A healthy Williams will also add a little more depth to the offense as it has been lacking playmakers out of the backfield since 2010.  

There have been flashes, and last year’s game against the Saints was proof that the Memphis product still has something left in the tank.  Williams may not rush for 100 or more yards in every game this upcoming season but if he can get enough touches in 2013, he can be effective. 

Each year that Williams has eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground, he has carried the ball over 200 times.  He is still capable of picking up big chunks of yards per carry as his career average is 4.9 yards.  He has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry four times over a seven-year career.

Another reason why Williams requires a big year is the need to raise his stock.  The Panthers could benefit from an additional draft pick next spring and having a player that can still produce is the ideal bargaining chip in negotiations.  Selecting Barner was not a mistake as he could replace Williams later down the road.  However, it would be appealing to offer a player on the trading block who is not only producing but affordable too.

Chances are DeAngelo Williams never matches his career year of 2008 but, he is capable of reaching the 1,000-yard mark once again.  A lot of it depends on the number of carries he has during the season.  He is still a durable running back, only missing 16 games over the course of his career.  Aside from the 2010 season, Williams has played in at least 13 games each season. 

If Williams is able to have a breakout year, it will take pressure off Newton to make plays and make the offense more balanced throughout games and the duration of the season.  There is even a chance his efforts help guide the Panthers to a winning season. 

Williams still has the potential and the talent to do the things that has made him great while a member of the Carolina Panthers.  What he does on the field could be the difference in a great or horrible season, on him being a roster cut or trade chip as well as impacting the job security of the coaching staff.