The Carolina Panthers had the 27th pick in the 2006 draft, and they were going to invest it in a running back. Obviously, 2006 was a long time ago.
But which running back? Some of Carolina’s decision makers favored Laurence Maroney of Minnesota. New England, however, took Maroney with the 21st pick. Maroney bounced around the NFL before washing out.
Several contenders remained when the Panthers drafted. They settled on DeAngelo Williams of Memphis. Marty Hurney, then Carolina’s general manager, liked Williams. He still does.
“He’s as genuine a guy as you could meet,” Hurney said Monday afternoon. “He was always willing to share carries, and because he was such a team guy I don’t think he ever got the credit that he deserves.”
You think he’s a good guy?
Hurney does: “We all see it from our own perspective.”
The Panthers confirmed Monday they plan to cut Williams. Running backs come with a limited warranty, and at 31, his had expired. He was often injured last season and even when he wasn’t, his speed was gone. He was expendable for several reasons; his departure means the Panthers have more money to spend. Also, they’d invested too much on a single position – Williams’.
Outsiders will compare Williams to Steve Smith, whom the Panthers jettisoned a year ago. Although Williams is Carolina’s all-time leading rusher, he didn’t have the impact Smith did on the field or in the community.
At 5-foot-9 and 215 pounds, however, Williams did offer an array of talents, among them vision, speed and, as great as any, balance.
He’d head into the hole he was assigned, find nothing he liked, and bounce outside. See you; be sure and write. His long run his rookie year was 31 yards. After that, his long run in each successive season was: 75 yards, 69, 77, 39, 74, 65, 43 and, last season, 17.
Remember the screen pass he caught during Carolina’s 2013 run to the playoffs? It was Game 14, the Panthers were playing the New York Jets and, inexplicably, on this day the Jets decided to be good.
With the score tied at 6, Cam Newton took the snap, looked left for an apparent screen pass and found Williams on the right. Legs suddenly young, Williams took off as if propelled. He picked up two fine blocks, found room on the right sideline and found the end zone. The touchdown was 72 yards, and the Panthers went on to win 30-20.
Williams has one other attribute. He might be the funniest player in team history. Contenders for the coveted title include Rod Smart, Brentson Buckner, Keydrick Vincent, Jordan Gross and, to get an active guy in there, Ryan Kalil.
In 2008, Williams made his first trip with the Panthers to Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. He was so moved by the fans’ garb (think “Mad Max”) that before the game he left the field and went into the crowd to get a better look.
That season I wrote a column about Ken Lucas, the Carolina cornerback who had a style uniquely his own. After home games he’d put on a custom-made $6,000 suit and often go to Chili’s, where he’d sit by himself at the bar and eat a salad and drink water. I asked how his teammates reacted to his look. Some players made fun of it, said Lucas, a sensitive man.
“Of course DeAngelo,” Lucas said. “Of course DeAngelo.”
Williams wore T-shirts, but they were good T-shirts, often Lucky Brand.
The last time I talked to Williams was the week of Carolina’s January playoff game against Arizona. He read the words on the shirt I was wearing and asked, “Where’s Bald Head Island?”
I told him. Go to the marina, pay a few bucks to jump on the boat and 2 nautical miles later there you’re there. Knowing that he has a daughter I said that kids love it.
“You have to pay?” Williams asked.
You have to pay.
“That’s not for me.”
Everybody has a beach. What’s yours?
“Myrtle,” Williams said.
Sorensen: 704-358-5129; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tomsorensen