For ten seasons, Aeneas Williams toiled in the desert. While Williams made six Pro Bowls and was selected by the Associated Press to its 1st- or 2nd-team All-Pro roster four times, the Cardinals went just 56-104 during Williams' time out there. After moving to the St. Louis in 2000, Williams' fortunes improved dramatically. He was part of the 14-2 squad that made the Super Bowl and never lost double digit games with the Rams (after suffering that indignity in half of his seasons in Arizona). The HOF has not typically been kind to players on losing teams; among its members, only O.J. Simpson, Lee Roy Selmon and Ollie Matson played on teams with winning percentages worse than the .350 rate Williams' Cardinals put up.
Cornerbacks often receive recognition for playing on teams in big markets and making big plays in big games; sometimes they're considered elite just because they start on great teams or teams with great defenses. Williams' Cardinals usually had terrible defenses, and rarely played in big games. To much of the nation, he was an unknown star. Williams started for the Cardinals his first three years out of Southern University in Louisiana, and then received national attention when his nine interceptions led the league in 1994. He was a terrific cover corner for most of the '90s, and he was one of only three players to record 40 interceptions in the decade.
But analyzing cornerbacks isn't any easier than analyzing linebackers or offensive linemen. Interceptions don't tell much of the story when it comes to cornerbacks, and neither do things like tackles or sacks. Passes defended data can be helpful, but such statistics haven't been recorded for most of professional football history. The best thing a cornerback can do is to cover his man so well that the QB never looks his way. That cornerback won't record many statistics, but he'll be helping his team win games. As a result, we're generally left with the usual rough estimates of player ability -- Pro Bowls, All-Pros, team defensive success and AV -- to objectively grade a player like Williams.
Williams is one of 20 defensive backs with over 100 points of career AV. Sixteen of those DBs are already Hall of Famers, while Deion Sanders will join them in the Class of 2011. Ronde Barber is likely to join them within the next decade. That leaves just one defensive back eligible but not yet in the HOF -- Giants great Jimmy Patton. It's still a mystery as to why Patton, a 10-year starter, 5-time first-team All-Pro, and NFL Champion, isn't in the Hall of Fame. Another Cardinals cornerback, Roger Wehrli, has a career AV of 98; he had to wait two decades, but was finally enshrined in 2007.
Williams ended his career with three first-team All-Pro selections and two more second-team All-Pro nods from the Associated Press; those five combined All-Pros put him in elite company at the cornerback position. Mike Haynes (8 combined All-Pros), Willie Brown (7), Jimmy Johnson (6) and Herb Adderley (6) are all in the HOF; Deion Sanders (7) and Champ Bailey (6) will join them one day, and Ronde Barber (5) should, too. Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson each have seven combined selections as cornerbacks and safeties, and were first ballot Hall of Famers. Those are the only corners with five or more combined AP All-Pro selections. It wasn't just the Associated Press that honored Williams; he was a three-time first-team All-Pro according to the Sporting News and was named to the Pro Football Writer's first-team All-Pro roster in four different seasons. Nearly everyone who watched Williams play thought he was a brilliant cornerback; unfortunately, for most of his career, very few people saw him play. For many fans, Williams' most famous moment with the Cardinals came when he blitzed Steve Young's blindside -- the one Lawrence Phillips was supposed to be protecting -- and gave Young a career-ending concussion
In Williams' ten years with the Cardinals, Arizona never finished in the top half of the league in yards per attempt allowed. Twice, in 1992 and 1995, the Cards ranked last in the league in that metric. With the Rams, things weren't much better outside of 2001, when St. Louis finished 7th in the league in Y/A allowed. In some ways he's the modern passing game's version of Dick Butkus, a guy whose reputation far exceeded his team's production; like Butkus, Williams was often saddled with defensive teammates who wouldn't start on most rosters. If he's lucky, like Butkus, his legacy won't be diminished just because he was never surrounded with defensive talent commensurate to his own.
Williams is one of four semifinalists that are newly eligible: Tim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice also retired in 2004. Voters may choose to give Rice and Smith special status by not selecting any other first-ballot Hall of Famers, but sooner or later, Williams should join them.
Chances he'll make the HOF in 2010? Toss up.
Chances he'll ever make the HOF? Excellent.
This entry was posted on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 8:15 am and is filed under HOF, Player articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.