If he never got injured, think of where he’d be. If his knees held up, imagine the conversations we’d be having.
As expected, Cadillac Williams accepted the Buccaneers’ one-year tender early this week to remain with the team. This, after completing his first injury-free campaign in 2009. After two patellar tendons and an unlikely comeback, Williams looks to be back on the track he set for himself when he won Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2005. When he set an NFL rookie record with 434 rushing yards in his first three games. When he became the first rookie to rush for 100 yards in each of his first three games. When his shoes and gloves went to the Hall of Fame.
Oh, the expectations.
But it’s not too late for Williams to become one of the all-time great Buccaneers. Last year he passed Buccaneer greats Errict Rhett, Ricky Bell and Reggie Cobb to move to fifth on the franchise's all-time rushing list with 3,240 career yards. Up next is Michael Pittman with 3,362 career yards, a mark Williams will likely hit early in 2010. The others will take more time. Warrick Dunn ranks third with 4,986, and his former teammate Mike Alstott is second with 5,088 career yards.
In the three seasons in which he played 14 games or more, Williams averaged 933 yards and almost four yards per carry. At that pace, he would pass James Wilder’s franchise mark of 5,957 career yards in the final weeks of the 2012 season.
The only things that stand in his way are health and his impending free agency.
At 28 years old and entering his sixth NFL season, Williams is likely at the peak of his career. And while Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham will still steal some carries, the Buccaneers are better when Williams carries the ball early and often. The Bucs are 8-1 when Williams rushes for 100-plus yards and 11-0 when he carries the ball more than 22 times.
After proving in 2009 that durability is less of an issue, he is poised to carry the load at running back moving forward. If Williams stays in Tampa Bay, and he stays healthy, we will inevitably be talking about perhaps the greatest Buccaneer running back of all time.