You hear it before every NFL Draft. "This player is too small to be an every-down player in the NFL." The comment is unsupported by history or any other concrete evidence, but NFL teams buy into the theory and a player slips several picks too far.
And so it could be with DeAngelo Williams, the fourth-leading rusher in the history of the NCAA's Division 1-A, who fell to the bottom of the first round in this year's draft, to the delight of the Carolina Panthers.
Williams played against relatively small schools in his career at Memphis, and in a conference that traditionally places an emphasis on offense. That, combined with his 5-foot-9 height, caused his quickness, speed and toughness to be overlooked by several NFL teams that needed a running back.
Williams isn't concerned.
"How many backs in the league in the league have they said were too small?" he said "Sixty-five or 70 percent were 'too small' to play the game.
We hear that week in and week out, 'He's too small to carry the load. He's not an every-down back.' But it's been proven that you can be my size and be an every-down back. There are guys who are going to be Hall of Famers who are in the league right now, or are in the Hall of Fame, who are 5-9 or 5-10."
Indeed, it's not hard to rattle off the names of running backs who were considered too small when draft time came around. Williams did it with ease:
"Just to name a few - Barry Sanders, phenomenal back. Emmitt Smith, phenomenal back. Priest Holmes, phenomenal back. Warrick Dunn, phenomenal back with longevity. Marshall Faulk. That's just to name a few. The bigger backs are the backs who need to be worried, wondering if they can be an every-down back and playing on third down."
Thanks to Upper Deck, SCD was able to talk to Williams at the Rookie Photo Shoot, an event held every May at the L.A. Coliseum. The event is organized by Players Inc, the marketing arm of the NFL Players Assocation, primarily for Topps, Upper Deck and Donruss/Playoff to prepare rookie cards.
While many of the rookies have not been card collectors since they were young, Williams is still an active collector, and that was the first topic of conversation.
SCD: You are really a collector, and not in the way that some people think they're a collector. For instance, you know the insert set names.
DW: I've collected a lot of cards over the past decade. I've got them stowed away. My mom and I moved three or four times, and the first thing I asked was, "Where are my trading cards?" I love them. I have a book full of them, and in the back it says how many cards I have. I've been collecting for a long time.
I have Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen from when they won 72 games. I've got Warren Moon's rookie card. I had Michael Jordan's rookie card, but I traded it away for his Hardwood Classics card. I've got his Hardwood Classics card, Kobe Bryant's and Allen Iverson's. I've got all of Michael Jordan's Cut Above cards.
SCD: You collected as a fan, but now you'll be a player. That's a different perspective on trading cards.
DW: Now, being on the inside looking out, it's totally different. These guys work their butts off. You're sore day in and day out, and then you have to hit the books. You're not going to college anymore, but I'll tell you, the books at the bookstore may cost you $150-$200, but your playbook will cost you $9,000, and that's just one book.
SCD: A lot of card collectors grow into autograph or jersey collectors, and you'll be in a position to collect autographs and jerseys. Do you think you'll be doing that?
DW: I will. One of my all-time favorite athletes is Jerry Rice - I patterned my game after him in high school, as well as Ricky Williams. Jerry Rice's work ethic on and off the field was just tremendous, that's what ultimately gave him longevity in the league, his work ethic and how he handled situations. His decision-making ability was just great. I'm thinking about trying to get an autograph or jersey, but I'm a different autograph collector than a lot of people. I don't get a guy because he's hot right now. My niche for trading cards is the value of that guy. Not so much his value on the field, but his value off the field. If he gets in trouble, his value may go up for the wrong reasons. I had a Penny Hardaway Electric card, numbered to 119 or something like that, and he had on and off the field problems. I had the card because he was from Memphis. I got a card of Garrison Hearst because he's one of those guys who people said he couldn't get it done in the NFL. Joe Theismann - he lives in Memphis and he's an inspirational guy. When he broke his leg, he didn't let that adversity get to him.
I can tell you a lot of people's cards, I'd trade them in a heartbeat, even if they were worth $150,000.
SCD: What's going to be your autograph philosophy when people want your autograph in public?
DW: It's hard to tell the autograph peddlers from the true fans. I'll be able to tell after a while. If a guy has 17 photos, I know he's not a true fan. I'll do the best I can to sign all of the true fans' autographs and weed out the autograph peddlers. But I'm excited just to be in this position of people wanting your autograph.
SCD: What about your mail autograph requests? Those will be increasing soon.
DW: They have already. That's not my favorite thing to do. A guy can send you a few things from home, and then a few things from his brother's house, and then his sister, and then his aunt, and before you know it, he's collected 20 autographs from 5-6 households. My favorite thing to do is to sign an autograph in person. Come up and let's chit-chat a little, get to know each other, so when you do get the autograph, it'll be more special to you, knowing me as an individual, getting an autograph from somebody you know a little bit. Because if you just get an autograph, and there are no words exchanged between the two of you, then it's just another autograph in your autograph collection. If you exchange words, now you have a story behind an autograph in your collection that you'll never want to get rid of.
SCD: Tell us about your exclusive deal with GTSM. Why did you want to do that?
DW: Because I'm not really familiar with autographs and the card business. You never know if they're working together, or against each other, or what's going on. It was because I didn't know what was going on. It's not that I don't trust anybody, but you can only trust what you see, you can't trust what you hear.
SCD: So have you signed for the trading card companies at all?
DW: I've signed some trading cards, but they don't come from a company like Upper Deck, they come from Upper Deck to Gary Takahashi to me. When they go through Gary, then I'll sign them.
SCD: Out of all of smaller backs in the league, or former NFL running backs, who do you believe you're most similar to?
DW: I've been compared to LT (LaDainian Tomlinson), Barry Sanders ... but I can't see a reason to do that because I haven't played a down yet. It wouldn't be right for me to compare myself to those guys who have proven themselves.