Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In fantasy, what's the biggest difference between a starter and a bench player?
Easy. It's the touchdowns.
Never has this sentiment been more true than in the case of Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams.
By most measures, Williams is having a terrific season. Through three games, he's already piled on 291 rushing yards, a total he didn't reach until Week 12 last season.
Williams is third in the league in rushing and if he keeps it up, he should top 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. In fact, he's currently on pace for 1,552 yards, which is 37 more than his career-high set in 2008.
Yet, Williams enters Monday as just the 17th-highest scorer among fantasy halfbacks.
The goose egg he has in the touchdowns column is a big reason why.
Despite producing almost 40 percent of Carolina's overall rushing output since the start of 2011, Williams has only accounted for 12 of the team's 49 rushing touchdowns over that span (24.5 percent).
The surprising part is, opposing defenses haven't been the ones standing in his way. Williams is getting stonewalled by his own team.
The Panthers seem to have an unwritten rule that comes into play whenever they're close to the goal line. The rule is, if you're under 240 pounds, get out of the way.
While Cam Newton (245 pounds) and Mike Tolbert (also 245) have been cutting to the front of the line, that area has been marked off with yellow tape for the 215-pound Williams.
That's not to say Tolbert and Newton have been getting tons of chances. Part of the problem is that the Panthers haven't been getting to that part of the field on a regular basis. Only four teams have made fewer red zone visits than Carolina's seven this season.
Though Williams has seen the lion's share of Carolina's red zone touches (eight out of 15), almost all of them have come from between ten and 20 yards out. He's only received one of Carolina's five carries from inside the ten and that attempt came from Buffalo's nine-yard line.
Size is certainly an important factor when putting together your goal line options but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for fantasy owners. Williams is doing all the work while Tolbert and Newton are getting most of the credit.
What's particularly baffling about Carolina's insistence on keeping Williams out of the end zone is that Williams used to be one of the league's premier goal line backs. Five years ago, Williams pounded his way to 18 touchdowns, easily the most in the NFL that season. Even with limited touches in 2011, he still came away with seven end zone visits.
Maybe the idea is that if someone else, say a short-yardage specialist like Tolbert, absorbs the punishment instead of Williams, maybe he'll be able to last a full season. The end zone is always the most chaotic part of the field and with goal line favorites like Steven Jackson and Ray Rice dropping left and right, it kind of makes sense. With Jonathan Stewart out indefinitely, the Panthers certainly can't afford to lose another running back.
So if we approach it from that angle, should fantasy owners actually be thanking head coach Ron Rivera for keeping Williams out of harm's way?
Come on, how naive are you guys? If injury risk was the reason for Williams' lack of touches, why would they let Cam Newton anywhere NEAR the goal line? Running backs come and go but a franchise quarterback like Newton is almost impossible to replace.
And if the Panthers were really concerned about Williams' durability, why would they give him such a massive workload week after week? Only three running backs in all of football have racked up more carries than Williams over the last three weeks.
Whatever it is, Rivera has his reasons and Carolina fans really can't complain after Sunday's 38-0 thumping of the New York Giants.
Still, a touchdown once in a while would be nice. If Williams had one touchdown this season, his rank in fantasy would go up from 17th all the way to tenth. Give him one more and he'd be at No. 7.
It's a shame that Williams is only being started in about 32 percent of fantasy leagues but even if the touchdowns never come, Williams has already been a huge fantasy surprise. ESPN ranked him 30th among fantasy running backs to start the season while our own site had him at 37th. A player moving up in the rankings at an age when many of his peers have already moved on to the broadcast booth (at age 30, he's the NFL's second-oldest starting running back) is nearly unheard of.
In a sense, Williams is kind of like a scoop of Vanilla ice cream. Everybody likes ice cream but wouldn't it be better with hot fudge and a few sprinkles?
Maybe he'll give us a few sprinkles next time out against Arizona.