At one stage, Tyrell Williams looked like the shining jewel in the crown of the 2019 crop of free agent wide receivers. Finally, it seemed that The Gazelle would emerge from the shadow of Keenan Allen and become the leading light in a different WR room, and hopefully become the star that many1 truly believed he could be.
A few of the teams thought to be likely suitors for Williams, namely the Bills and the Eagles, went in different directions as free agency began. The Bills, after being rebuffed by Antonio Brown, signed John Brown to stretch the field for Josh Allen. The Eagles traded for DeSean Jackson to give their offense a vertical element sadly lacking in 2018.
The Browns were rumored to be interested, but they instead re-upped Bershad Perriman before picking the New York Giants pocket and securing the services of Odell Beckham. The landing spots were suddenly in short supply for Williams. But then, it was announced that Williams did have a new team. And for fans of Williams, and especially his legion of truthers, it could hardly have been a more uninspiring one.
Another New Raider
It was the Oakland Raiders, division opponents of Williams’ erstwhile former team the Chargers, who agreed to terms with Williams on Wednesday. Twenty-two of Williams’ career receptions had come in games against the Raiders, so they were well aware of the skills he would bring to the table. While Williams is a huge upgrade on practically everyone on the Raiders WR depth chart from 2018, there is the small matter of his being an immediate second fiddle to another player the Raiders recently signed up.
Top of the Bill or Nothing
Williams and Antonio Brown make for an intriguing one-two punch, alongside the aging Jordy Nelson. However, it is an inescapable fact that Williams will not command a huge target share with the Raiders — not as long as Brown is around. Indeed, if we look at Williams’ game splits over his career, he has performed better when asked to assume the mantle of the go-to guy rather than the supporting act. Just look at his splits whenever Allen was missing for the Chargers.
Williams is a volume player, not an efficient one, as the numbers above suggest. He does offer splash play potential, as evidenced by his 15.9 yards per reception in 2018. According to PlayerProfiler, Williams was a top-end WR2 in terms of fantasy points per target — ranking 14th among WRs with 2.15. But in 15 games last season, Williams saw more than six targets just once, and (you’ve guessed it) that was a game that Allen missed.
No Red Zone Chops
Despite his impressive size and stature, Williams has not enjoyed much success as a red-zone weapon. He has seen only 25 red-zone targets since 2016. This figure is exceeded by 75 players in total. These looks have produced just four touchdowns. Using the RotoViz screener, we can see some WRs who’ve seen similar looks in the scoring area. They are not inspiring.
Nine of his 17 career scores have come from 30 yards or farther. But this is a type of production that is hard to expect on a weekly basis.
Boom or Bust? Probably Bust
That being said, with Brown expected to hoover up as many targets as he can get his mitts on, Williams will probably be the major downfield option for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Williams has a career adjusted yards per attempt of 19.25 when targeted 15 yards or more down the middle of the field.
Carr’s average in the same area is 14.85. Carr was 18th in deep pass attempts last season, averaging 3.7 shots per game. He completed 44.1 percent of these, the fourth best among QBs. He did this despite his receivers averaging a mere 1.17 yards of separation per target. Williams, on the other hand, averaged 1.45 yards. It may be hard, nay impossible, to trust Williams on a weekly basis. But could these skills give him DeSean Jackson like appeal as a boom/bust best ball option?
You see, Williams’ QB last season, Philip Rivers, averaged nearly four deep pass attempts per game. He completed 41.9 percent of them, good for the sixth best rate in the NFL. Despite this, Williams still only managed two games where he finished higher than the WR23 in 2018. These came in Weeks 6 and 7. He finished both games with 118 yards, scoring three of his five touchdowns in the process. He saw a combined eight targets in these two games.
As big a fan as I am of Williams, it is hard to get too excited about the second option in a passing game that already features an undisputed alpha dog. It would be easier to trust if we knew for certain that Carr has the skills to prop up multiple fantasy-relevant receivers. But we really have no evidence to back this supposition up. Williams will continue to be a player that I take in the late rounds of best ball drafts, or ridiculously late in redraft leagues, almost in the hope that the injury gods will strike elsewhere and give him a chance to shine. But I’m not holding my breath.
- Including the author. (back)