While many in the fantasy football world have been scrambling to fill vacancies on their rosters because of injuries to running backs such as Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Deuce McAllister, Thomas Jones and Julius Jones, forward-thinking owners who drafted Ricky Williams should be beaming. Owners in leagues in which Williams remains available should stop reading right now, go to their computer and add him to the roster.
That's because Williams figures significantly into first-year Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban's plans. Saban and his players have been effusive in praising Williams's work ethic while the enigmatic runner served a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. That suspension ended Monday.
"I don't think people around the league understand what they're going to get in Ricky," Dolphins defensive tackle Vonnie Holliday told reporters. "I think when he gets out there he's going to set the league on fire."
Holliday's comments came one day after the Dolphins' 20-14 loss to the Bills in which Miami committed a franchise-record 18 penalties yet had a chance to win until starting tailback Ronnie Brown fumbled with less than two minutes to play.
Williams has been working out at the Dolphins' facility in Davie, Fla., arriving after practice because he was not permitted to perform drills with teammates during his suspension. By all accounts, Williams has stayed fit since the preseason, when he last played an official game. Williams's last regular season game was Dec. 28, 2003, when he rushed for 73 yards and caught a career-long 59-yard pass despite a sore shoulder.
The Dolphins will need the best Williams can provide Sunday when they face Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense. Don't be surprised to see Williams and Brown in the backfield together, with Williams sometimes going in motion and lining up as a tight end or wide receiver. Williams won't make fantasy owners forget about LaDainian Tomlinson or Marshall Faulk in his prime, but he has proven himself much more than a one-dimensional running back.
Because Williams averaged 1,367 yards rushing and nearly 10 touchdowns per game from 2000 to 2003, it's easy to forget how often he was employed as a receiver out of the backfield. In that same span, Williams averaged 50 receptions and one receiving touchdown per season.
"We are going to start both guys, so you can't ask me which one is starting," Saban said yesterday after Williams's first practice since rejoining the team. "I might change my mind between now and then, but I am just telling you that we are starting both. "
Williams's return decreases Brown's fantasy value, but that doesn't mean the rookie should be released or even benched. Despite his fumble, Brown has played well the past two games and should get most of the work this week.
Fantasy owners who have a clear No. 1 running back should consider starting either Brown or Williams in the No. 2 slot. In leagues with a third running back or a flex position, starting Brown or Williams is a must.