Panthers, first-round pick Williams reach agreement

Updated: July 28, 2006, 12:11 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

First-round tailback DeAngelo Williams, who holds the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage, late Thursday night reached a contract agreement with the Carolina Panthers, ESPN.com has learned. The deal with Williams means that the Panthers have accords with all eight members of their 2006 draft class.

The 27th player chosen overall, and regarded by some scouts as the best pure running back in the draft, Williams will sign a five-year contract with a maximum value of nearly $10 million. The deal, negotiated by agent Jimmy Sexton over the last two days, includes $5 million in guarantees.

Because of his compact build (5-feet-9, 214 pounds) and his running style, Williams is often compared to Hall of Fame tailback Barry Sanders. There might be some hyperbole there, but Williams certainly posted numbers that stand up favorably to some of the elite backs in recent NCAA history.

He rushed for 6,026 yards and 55 touchdowns on 969 carries at the University of Memphis, appearing in 44 games and starting in 36 of them. Williams also caught 70 passes for 723 yards and five touchdowns and had 37 kickoff returns for a 22.3-yard average.

An explosive back with the kind of long speed that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field, Williams is a deceptively tough back. He finished his career as the fourth-leading rusher in Division I-A history and ranked among the nation's top five rushers in each of his final three seasons.

Williams totaled 7,573 all-purpose yards and he is the ninth-leading scorer in NCAA history.

It is expected that Williams' primary contribution in 2006 will be as a kickoff return man. But even though Panthers' offensive coordinator Dan Henning has never liked relying on rookie backs, Williams might be too good, and too dangerous, not to get onto the field.

The Carolina starter is four-year veteran DeShaun Foster, who has exceptional skills, but whose career has frequently been interrupted by injuries. The former UCLA star, whose gliding style makes him an outside threat, has appeared in just 33 games in four seasons, and started only 10 of them, and his endurance is certainly suspect.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.