Did you see DeAngelo Williams Thursday night, in Carolina's 17-12 loss at Baltimore in the first exhibition contest for both teams?
He got only a handful of touches, but the results were sharp and quick and explosive, and a great portent of things to come – once again – for the Panthers running back.
Williams carried the ball five times, but turned those limited carries into 33 yards – an impressive 6.6 average per attempt against a club that consistently fields the toughest run defense in football (Baltimore was No. 1 last year in run defense, allowing 3.43 YPA).
Fantasy fans – those of you inclined to participate in imaginary fake football – should take notice. So should all fans around the NFL. After all, Williams is poised to do things in 2010 that only two of the elite ball carriers in history have ever accomplished. (Fantasy fans should also check out our new league this year, too.)
We started to look a little more closely at Williams' four-year career in Carolina last week, thanks to an email from CHFF reader Robert Hyman. Like Williams, Hyman attended the University of Memphis, so he is, admittedly, a big fan.
Here's Hyman's note:
"Here's a stat for you regarding one of the truly great backs in NFL history. Keep your eye on this. To the best of my reasonable knowledge, after doing much, but NOT TOTALLY COMPLETE RESEARCH, it appears that based on 125 minimum carries a year, only Marshall Faulk, Jim Brown, and DeAngelo Williams have EVER averaged 5.0 yards per carry for three straight years.
"Should DeAngelo Williams average 5.0 YPA in 2010, he will become the ONLY running back in NFL history with four straight years of 5.0 yards per carry rushing (min. 125 attempts). He's easily one of the top 10 backs in the history of the game. You might want to give that stat some coverage."
We're not sure we'd agree quite yet that Williams is one of the 10 best back in history. And Hyman is wrong on one count: Williams has not averaged 5.0 YPA each of the past three years. He did reach that mark in 2008 and 2009, but fell a hair shy in 2007 (4.97 YPA).
However, it is true that Williams is quietly poised to make history this month.
Williams has carried the ball at least 200 times and averaged more than 5.0 YPA each of the past two years. That's two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with an average of 5.0 YPA.
Only two backs in history have accomplished this feat (200+ carries, 5.0+ YPA) three years in a row. And they were pretty good ball players. The first was Jim Brown, who went out on top with this kind of record-setting production in his final three years with Cleveland (1963-65); and the second was Marshall Faulk, during his incredible run with St. Louis from 1999 to 2001.
Williams, in other words, has given some incredible production in his career, the kind we've seen only out of two of the most explosive offensive weapons the game has ever seen. And Williams has turned in these back-to-back seasons, even as he's flown largely under the radar screen in his first four years.
  • He saw only limited action as a rookie in 2006 (121 attempts, 501 yards), as DeShaun Foster handled most of the work load.
  • Minnesota rookie running back Adrian Peterson generated all the headlines in 2007.
  • Peterson remained the league's most talked about back in 2008, even as Williams had his own incredible breakout year (273 attempts, 1,515 yards, 18 TD).
  • And then last year, Tennessee's Chris Johnson captured the spotlight with his incredible 2,006-yard performance.
And, of course, Williams has had to share the workload in Carolina's dual-back system, first with Foster (2006, 2007) and most recently with Jonathan Stewart (2008, 2009).
The Williams-Stewart, tandem, meanwhile, is already putting up historic numbers, too (see more here). Right now, they represent the best 1-2 RB tandem the NFL has seen in years, and perhaps ever – depending upon how things play out here in 2010 and beyond.

Last year, Williams-Stewart became the rare tandem in history to each top 1,000 yards in the same season, and the even rarer tandem in which both topped 5.0 YPA. (See all six 1,000-yard backfield tandems side-by-side right here.)
An average of 5.0 YPA is a phenomenal figure for any one back in any year, let alone two 1,000-yard backs on the same team. Remember, 4.0 YPA is the traditional average per attempt for the average back, while 5.0 YPA is incredible.
Brown is the only ball carrier to average 5.0 YPA in his career, and all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, as we noted last week, averaged just 4.16 YPA in his career.
So, 5.0 YPA is incredible. And Williams and Stewart in stand as the first and only tandem since Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris of the undefeated 1972 Dolphins to each top 1,000 yards and 5.0 YPA in the same season.
So keep your eye on Carolina, whether you're a fantasy fan or someone like us who recoils at the thought of "playing" imaginary fake football. In either case, Williams is poised to join a very, very elite list this year while the Williams-Stewart tandem stands on the brink of history, too.
Young quarterback Matt Moore played extremely well in relief of Jake Delhomme late last year, with 8 TDs, 2 picks, and a 98.5 passer rating as the Panthers went 4-1 in his five starts. Meanwhile, first-round draft pick Jimmy Clausen, who put up incredible numbers at Notre Dame, is waiting as the high-profile quarterback of the future if Moore falters.
But whoever's taking the snaps, the powerful combo of Williams-Stewart will ease the transition and make the Panthers a formidable offense if one of these quarterbacks lives up to their potential.