The Arizona Cardinals released running back Ryan Williams yesterday and it got us thinking about how bad the Arizona running game has been the last few years. It also got us thinking about what the future might hold for him too. We’ve seen the league evolve into more of a pass-first league but Arizona has been one failure after another at the position.
Let’s take look back at the bumbling known as the Arizona backfield from the last few seasons. We’ll go back to 2007 for this article. That was the year Arizona took Levi Brown over Adrian Peterson in the draft and we’ll assume Peterson would have been a better solution by himself than the collective mess of running backs the Cardinals have used.
For his career, Peterson has 10,115 yards, 86 rushing touchdowns, and no fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns in any of his seasons.
The Cardinals have used all of the following players in the backfield since 2007: Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Tim Hightower, JJ Arrington, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Chester Taylor, William Powell, Ryan Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor.
That’s quite the list of running backs. How many of them are still in the league? Not many. James and Wells each had 1,000 yard seasons for the Cardinals. Wells and Hightower each have a 10-touchdown season in them but the team has little else on the ground.
The days of the true feature back are gone and platoon systems rule the day. The offensive lines most of the players have run behind have been atrocious at best. Some of these Arizona teams were playing catch-up frequently that the run game was used more to keep opposing defenses honest.
The Cardinals need to re-commit to the running game to help keep opposing offenses standing on the sidelines. The NFC West is the toughest division in the league and every other team has that workhorse running back and Arizona needs to have one. They can’t keep up with guys like Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and the emerging Zac Stacy.
Yet the Cardinals didn’t draft a running back. Only two of the 15 players signed as undrafted free agents are running backs in Zach Bauman of Northern Arizona and Tim Cornett of UNLV. Bauman is one of nine players in FCS history to have four 1,000-yard seasons despite being less than 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds. Cornett has more than 1200 yards each of his last two seasons. Nobody is going to mistake the Big Sky conference and the Mountain West conference with the NFC West anytime soon.
Perhaps the Arizona running back position should be a good example for the rookie symposium to illustrate how fickle the league can be.
Wells was a first-round pick, 31st overall, and signed a five-year, $9.6 million rookie contract. He was carted off with an ankle injury later that day. It didn’t come from tripping over the big pile of money in his wallet. Injuries cut short some of his seasons and Wells only had one good season with the team.
He was released after four years of the five-year deal. Wells hasn’t caught back on in the league yet. He tried out for a couple teams last season but didn’t get the call. He tore his ACL last October when trying out for a spot with the Baltimore Ravens.
Williams now has to deal with a couple of problems. He made it through three years of his four-year, $5 million rookie deal before getting cut. Hopefully he’s learned the right lessons of financial management. We don’t know how he is in this regard but more than ¾ of all players wind up in financial difficulty less than three years after leaving the league. According to Spotrac.com. Williams made around $3.3 million during his time in the league. It’s a nice amount of money to gain in a short amount of time.
Williams also was cut at the worst possible time of the year. Teams drafted players last weekend and the running back position looks devalued. The first running back off the board was Bishop Sankey to the Tennessee Titans—in the second round.
Teams reached out and signed undrafted free agents, which make rosters around the league nearly, full if not very full for some teams. He will have to be patient, wait for an opening, and hope for the best.
Williams has to deal with the label of being an oft-injured player, which doesn’t help. He also will be haunted by the quote he gave where he said he was scared to run on the previously-injured knee.
The Cardinals still need a franchise running back and most of the guys mentioned in this article want jobs in the NFL.
Ellington has the next shot at being the big-name running back for Arizona. He could be that gem that morphs into the stud running back who has a lengthy career in the league. Or he could be selling insurance a few years from now.
Based on the position’s track record, I’m waiting for Ellington to quote me a premium on my Hyundai in 2019.