It was pretty much a formality when The Associated Press named New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady its AP Comeback Player of the Year back in January, just a few days after the season concluded. Brady came back from a serious knee injury in Week 1 of the 2008 season to throw for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns. I think it was obvious he'd come back and perform well, sealing this award early on, but did we know that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Cadillac Williams was going to have as good a year as he had, and finish just a few votes behind Brady?
Not a chance. Fantasy footballers trusted Brady so much they made him the No. 2 quarterback in standard leagues last season and a second-round draft pick. Williams was way, way off the radar. He wasn't among ESPN's top 60 running backs, as free agent Derrick Ward was a new acquisition from the New York Giants, and Earnest Graham was the incumbent he'd have to beat out. Williams had barely played in 2007 and 2008, recovering from two devastating knee injuries.
Williams finished 25th among running backs in standard fantasy scoring last season, and as ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinkas noted recently, he did this for an awful team that was a mess in terms of offensive leadership and its offensive line. Now Williams is the unquestioned starter, quarterback Josh Freeman is a year older, the defense is improved and according to the Tampa Tribune, Williams figures to increase his carries to 20 to 25 per game. Last season Williams averaged 13 rushes per contest.
I was obviously a bit too high on Ward last season, as he ended up on far too many of my fantasy teams, and turned out to be a bust, but the Buccaneers want to establish a strong running game; few expected Williams would be the one doing so. Now I think he's a bit underrated, after taking the job in Week 1 and pretty much running with it.
Expectations should be higher this season, and I think we'll see Williams get more touches, and do more with them. Ward and Clifton Smith enter training camp as clear backups, while Graham is the fullback. I see more than 1,000 rushing yards, six touchdowns and enough value to make Williams a No. 3 running back. He's being chosen as the No. 39 running back in ESPN average live drafts (it is early, though), just outside the top 100 overall. In my rankings Williams is No. 27 at running back, ahead of Reggie Bush (injuries), Clinton Portis (crowded backfield), Ben Tate (rookie!) and LaDainian Tomlinson (backup), among others.