December 15, 2015 - Danny Shimon
Three Unheralded Acquisitions Who Have Made Big Contributions to These Contenders
The start of the new NFL league year in March signals not only a new beginning to an upcoming season, but it also starts the NFL version of Free agent frenzy. A lot of the bigger name free agents are usually swooped up almost immediately with tons of guaranteed money being dished out, millionaire owners and their private jets flying players in and out of town. What we have come to learn though with free agency is that a lot of times it’s not the bigger name players that make the biggest impact instead it’s the “Under the Radar” moves that pay big dividends for teams throughout the regular season and into January. Here are three acquisitions that may not have grabbed headlines when they came across the transaction wire, but have sure made significant impact to their respective team’s success and contender status. DeAngelo Williams, RB – Pittsburgh Steelers When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed the former Carolina Panther this past offseason the move was met with a collective “Meh”. The consensus was that it was a decent signing, a veteran back-up for All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and someone who would be adequate in the season’s first two game to help fill-in while Bell served a two game suspension. Fast forward now after fifteen weeks of the 2015 season, with the Steelers heading down the home stretch battling to make the playoffs many consider Williams possibly the teams MVP. Not only did Williams fill in admirably for Bell in the first two weeks of the season by rushing for over two-hundred yards and three touchdowns, but after Bell was injured in week eight and was lost for the season, Williams stepped in and the Steelers rushing attack has not skipped a beat. Williams, who currently stands 12th overall among rushing leaders, has 773 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, and is on pace to become the first running back to rush over 1,000 yards in a season who is over the age of thirty, since 2009. The last runner to accomplish this was Ricky Williams who was 32 when he did it. DeAngelo Williams came into the season accepting the backup role but was still preparing as if he was going to be a starting running back. Williams who was the Carolina Panthers first round pick (27th overall) back in 2006 has compiled over 7,000 yards and well over 50 touchdowns over his career. Williams leadership and belief in himself, that he could still be a starting running back in the league, have been key components in keeping the ship afloat and offering up a solid rushing attack to compliment the Steelers dangerous passing attack led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and company. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield also was crucial in helping offset the loss of Bell, as Le’Veon is one of the more prolific pass catching backs out of the backfield. With this past weekend’s beat down of the Bengals in the books, the Steelers gave the rest of the AFC notice that they are still a team to be reckoned with, and one that many may want to avoid come playoff time. Without DeAngelo Williams playing like he is this season, I am not sure that the Steelers would be considered a playoff contender at this point. Kurt Coleman, S – Carolina Panthers With the success the Carolina Panthers have had so far being the only undefeated team remaining much of the credit, and deservedly so, has gone to Cam Newton and the ascension he has made in becoming an MVP caliber quarterback. General Manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera have done a tremendous job in assembling a good team that is built around their quarterback and a defense that is physical and tough. One offseason acquisition that went unnoticed at the time but has played a major part in the Panthers success on that aforementioned defense was the signing of veteran safety Kurt Coleman. Teamed up with fellow veteran Roman Harper and coupled with the continued development of Josh Norman, Coleman and crew have solidified the backend of an already tough Panthers defensive squad. Coleman, a six year veteran, was the seventh round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles out of Ohio State back in 2010. After four seasons as an Eagle, two of which he was a starter at free safety, Coleman moved on and played last season in Kansas City. Then in March of this year the Panthers came calling looking to replace their free agent bust in Thomas DeCoud and trying to shore up their back four defenders; Carolina signed Coleman to a two year deal. All Coleman has done is start every game this season, is second in the league with seven interceptions, and is well on his way to securing an invite to this year’s Pro Bowl. Coleman has a current interception streak of five games with at least one pick, having extending it with this past Sunday’s victory over the Falcons. Coming into this season Coleman had only ten interceptions in his career, so he has a chance to equal or surpass that total in his first season as a Panther. Along with the interceptions Coleman has 69 tackles, one sack and nine passes defended this season. His ability to be able to play both safety positions along with his familiarity with the defense have been a blessing in disguise. Coleman played under current Panther defensive coordinator Sean McDermott back when both were in Philadelphia so he was well prepared for his transition to the Panthers. His ball hawking skills along with the ability to take charge and position players in their right spots in the secondary, to go along with Harper, have allowed an already formidable front seven be that much more attacking and physical. There is plenty of praise to go around in Carolina this season as their magical undefeated tour heads into another week, but the signing of Coleman has become one of the hidden gems of the off season. James Jones, WR – Green Bay Packers Who said you can’t go back home again? That is exactly what James Jones did this season reuniting with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Head Coach Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and once again finding his big-play abilities. The reunion between Jones and the Packers seemed like a script out of a movie with two lost souls finding each other once again and living happily ever after. The Packers had just been dealt a devastating blow in the preseason with the season long injury to receiver Jordy Nelson and needed to find a replacement for Nelson. Not just any replacement would do, they needed someone who could come in and pick up the sophisticated system run by McCarthy in quick order, and more importantly someone Rodgers would trust in throwing them the ball at crucial points in a ball game. There was James Jones who just got released by the New York Giants at the end of training camp for reasons I am still trying to figure out. It was the second time within the calendar year Jones was surprisingly cut, as the Raiders let the nine year veteran go after he posted 73 catches with six touchdowns the season before. The Raiders had just drafted Amari Cooper, and signed veteran Michael Crabtree away from the 49ers so they found Jones expendable after just one season. Oakland had signed Jones away from Green Bay after he could not come to terms on a contract extension. Jones led the NFL with 14 touchdowns in 2012 and was coming off a season in 2013 were he was averaging fourteen yards a reception. So the Packers signed Jones to the veterans minimum the Monday prior to the opener against Chicago in week one. All Jones did was go out and catch all four of his targets from Rodgers for 51 yards and two touchdowns in the victory versus the Bears. It felt like Jones had never left for the bay and that year and a half away was nothing but a mirage. Jones has gone on to catch 33 more passes from Rodgers for 660 yards and seven touchdowns overall. He leads the NFL with an 18.9 yards per reception average but more importantly has come back home and helped ease some of the sting of Nelson’s injury. Although the Packers went through a bit of a lull recently which affected their offensive production they seemed to have righted the ship and are once again a top the NFC North and appear headed for another playoff run. That run will once again include James Jones, as one of the weapons at Aaron Rodgers disposal, back again where he seems to belong making big plays and scoring key touchdowns.