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Damien Williams Is a Must-Draft... and Must-Sell


“You know what? Damien Williams is our starter,” said Chiefs RB coach Eric Bieniemy shortly before fantasy football Twitter burned down. My initial reaction to this: "No kidding, what are your other options?" Regardless, Damien Williams, it's now your turn.

I don't just mean it's his chance to earn a starting gig on an NFL team, it's his turn to be this year's overhyped fantasy special. Every year, we inflate one player's perceived value and ADP so much, it becomes impossible for them to reach expectations. Last year, David Johnson and Dalvin Cook had unrealistic expectations set on them coming off major injuries. Royce Freeman and Alex Collins were third-round picks because they were talented players in run-heavy offenses. Didn't matter so much, did it? Williams was already a solid third-round pick and has now moved up to the second round based on the recent hype.

He does inherit a pretty nice position as the featured back in the league's best offense from 2018. But there are some underlying issues that could betray his fantasy value and his value will never be higher than it is right now. I suggest a unique proposition in this situation.

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A Case for Buying, then Selling

Williams was the starting running back to end last season in KC, signed a two-year extension, and Spencer Ware is gone. Williams is definitely the starter this year and should rightfully be hailed as a high draft pick. The second round may be a bit much but if he's available in the early portion of the third round and you can get him as your RB2, go for it. Then, immediately trade him and do the same right now in dynasty. Let me explain...

Williams would have to come away with a season better than Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman, and Nick Chubb in order to deserve his current ADP of 2.08 in redraft. He's going ahead of all those guys in most early mocks. Can he match their production?

We've already said why Freeman is a player to buy this year. If he just matches what he did in both 2015 and 2016, he can go for 1,500 total yards, 14 TD and well over 50 receptions. Assuming Fournette is capable of playing a 16-game schedule, he could do the exact same. He logged 1,342 scrimmage yards and 10 TD in 13 games as a rookie. In 10 games as the primary back, Chubb averaged 82.3 rushing yards, 14.9 receiving yards and 0.8 TD per game. Over a full season, that projects to 1,555 total yards and 13 TD.

In five games to end the season without Kareem Hunt, Williams' 16-game averages were 816 rushing yards, 454 receiving yards, and 19 TD. Looks pretty close to those other backs, which means his ADP is fair. The problem I have is that I don't see any way Williams scores 19 times and the floor is lower than those other three players. In redraft, you may be OK taking a chance because all of those RB have injury concerns. However, it's already a risk to assume he can carry the load over 16 games. Plus, both Aaron Jones and Marlon Mack could return the same redraft value as Williams and are going a full round later in early redraft mocks. Williams has tantalizing upside but I see too many reasons to be pessimistic about his return on investment.

 

Chief Concerns

As far as competition at running back, that's not the problem. I won't proclaim that rookies Darwin Thompson or James Williams are going to win over the job because that's unlikely. Carlos Hyde has been a serviceable back, averaging 4.2 yards per carry for San Francisco over four years before last year's forgettable tour with Cleveland and Jacksonville. I've never been a Hyde fan though and he doesn't necessarily fit this system too well. Darrel Williams is nothing more than depth. None of these players scare me off of Williams this year, although we have to admit Hyde could steal some red zone touches as a slightly bigger interior runner.

I'm one of the few who are coming out early to say that the Chiefs offense is due to decline. It would be hard for them to be any better than last year anyway, having put up 425.6 total yards and 35.3 points per game. Only the 2016 Saints and 2013 Broncos have matched that output in the past five seasons. If they are without their star wide receiver (who shall go unnamed) for part of the year, as they should, can they really handle losing him and Hunt while maintaining the same pace?

We also can't pretend that Williams has proven himself already. He had a good game in Week 14, tallying 123 scrimmage yards with two scores, then a big rushing day with 103 yards and another 37 through the air in Week 15 with a TD. Week 16 was bad (59 yards) but he had a huge game against Indy in the playoffs and scored three times against the Patriots despite being limited to 30 rushing yards. Even when he wasn't effective, he still scored for his team and fantasy owners. At least, if you were doing a playoff league.

Like Hunt before him, Williams was a touchdown machine because of the offensive system. While he could easily find double-digit scores again this year, the team may just score less in general because that's typically what happens after a prolific season where so many career highs were set. Regression is a real thing and no team or player is immune to it, especially when the schedule gets tougher. For what it's worth right now, the Chiefs project to have the fifth-toughest schedule in 2019.

Williams showed plenty last season but this is still a player that averaged 3.6 yards per carry in his first four NFL seasons. Sure, that was with the hapless Dolphins. But Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake each averaged well over four Y/A in their last couple of seasons in Miami. Williams has great breakaway straight-line speed but his agility is questionable, which is why he went undrafted despite coming out of Oklahoma five years ago. Simply put, he's no Kareem Hunt.

 

Selling in Dynasty (Before It's Too Late)

While you're taking less of a risk by selecting him in redraft, in dynasty you have to weigh things more carefully. Williams has been a nice find, but for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, he may not be the featured back for long if he or the offense stumbles this year.

Williams doesn't have a ton of mileage on his tires but is already 27 years old, which should be considered. While players his same age like Devonta Freeman and Le'Veon Bell have proven track records of being fantasy studs, Williams' value is still up in the air.

If someone in win-now mode is willing to give up Phillip Lindsay, Derrius Guice, or an unproven rookie like David Montgomery in order to acquire Williams, take that deal. Even if you don't sell during the preseason when his stock is near its peak, consider fielding offers later in the year in order to maximize return before the Chiefs draft a running back in 2020.

If you are taking part in a dynasty startup, Williams is the perfect player to draft and flip; the same holds true for redraft leagues. The early rounds are all about minimizing risk. While the thought of Williams dancing into the end zone 20 times seems great, I'd rather put my draft capital elsewhere.

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