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DeAngelo Williams Is(n’t) a Bargain: A RotoViz Brodown
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[Editor’s note: Perhaps the inventor of the term Brodown is the great BroJackson, a site known for great writing across sports and culture. We’re borrowing the term for this article.]

For RotoViz readers who aren’t aware, my brother Mike and I have been attempting to solve the age-old question, “which of us do our parents love more?” in the only reasonable way that we know how: by debating the fantasy value of NFL players. As part of this ongoing series, each of us will make the case for why Player X is a redraft bargain in PPR, and the other will rebut. We’ve already taken this mind-blowing and revolutionary format to wide receivers, when we profiled a phoenix who will rise from the ashes of Christian Ponder, the next Alshon Jefferya PPR monsterand a free couch. Now it’s time to take a look at the lifeblood of fantasy football: kickers. Er, running backs.1

The Case for DeAngelo Williams (Pat)

A couple weekends ago I helped my older brother2 hang dry wall, which as anyone who’s done it know, is pretty goddamn tedious.  First you measure out each section, cut it to size, then cut out holes for outlets, wires, and light switches.  Then you position the panel, make sure the fit is right, secure it in place, and repeat.  Have I made my point?—it’s boring. But boring isn’t always bad. In this case, putting in a boring afternoon saved a bunch of money on a home renovation. In the case of DeAngelo Williams, yawning while taking him in the 10th round will save you a ton of draft capital that you can use for a Zero RB strategy, provide early round flexibility to draft the Queen on the Chessboard, or bail you out  if you’re just feeling a little high.

If your eyes are glazing over at the thought of reading a DeAngelo Williams article, I get it. What could be more boring than drafting a 31 year old running back who’s most recent season as a top 20 RB was 2009; someone whose offense sports a goal line back in Mike Tolbert and a goal line QB in Cam Newton; someone who, after both their playing days are over, is probably going to buy a timeshare with Jonathan Stewart to remind him of the good old days. Yeah, drafting DeAngelo Williams is boring, and he most definitely lacks the league winning lottery ticket appeal of other players3 available in the 10th round or later. But, as Fantasy Douche pointed out recently, blindly buying lottery tickets is not good investment strategy.

Perhaps it’s because of his perceived lack of upside, but DeAngleo Williams is criminally undervalued in re-draft at the moment.  He’s currently going as RB45 in the 10th round, which is a huge discount on his 2013 finish of PPR RB 25 (his third straight season as a top 30 RB).  What has changed since last season? Well, much has been made about Cam Newton losing 3 of his top 4 targets last year,4 but he did keep his most efficient target from last year. Nope, not Greg Olsen. DeAngelo Williams. Excluding TE Richie Brockel’s 1 attempt for 12 yards, Newton was most effective when throwing to Williams last year, posting an AYA5 of 9.81 on his 36 attempts to Williams. In the Cam Newton era Jonathan Stewart has been more targeted and leads the team in RB receptions, but Williams has been more effective with an AYA with Newton of 7.62 compared to Stewart’s 6.69. Given Williams’ 3 straight top 30 seasons and his pass catching ability on a team lacking passing weapons, and Williams is about as safe as a 10th round RB can get.

Now, what about that upside?  For that, we go to the RB Sim Score App. Turns out the App paints Williams as an excellent arbitrage play on veteran running backs going many rounds earlier:

PlayerRB ADPADPLow (PPR)Median (PPR)High (PPR)
Rashad Jennings214.103.19.410.8
Frank Gore276.026.19.311.4
Steven Jackson327.063.17.211.4
DeAngelo Williams4510.063.76.912.5

The App thinks Williams has the highest ceiling, which eases concerns that his age, 31, will prevent him from performing at an RB2 level. Williams’ ceiling projection is also exactly in line with what he has averaged over the last 3 years when Jonathan Stewart has been out of the lineup:

dwill

Furthermore, the App may be slightly underrating Williams’ upside. I’ve already mentioned that there are 263 targets up for grabs in the Carolina offense and that Williams is likely to be effective with an increased role in the passing game, but Williams also performed better than expected based on his schedule last year.  Check it out:

rb_def_adj_thumb.png

Williams’ FPOP was negative last year, but after adjusting for strength of schedule his performance was above expectation. If he can keep up this level of play there may be some built in upside if his schedule is a bit less challenging in 2014.

The primary issue with Williams is that if Jonathan Stewart plays 16 games, Williams is likely to be a fairly weak RB2. But with Stewart having missed more games than he’s played over the last 2 seasons, betting a 10th round pick that he misses some time seems like a pretty solid value. If Stewart’s out of the lineup, history indicates that Williams will be an excellent bargain RB2 and perfect cheap veteran placeholder if you’re looking to go Zero RB this year.  Moreover, with Jonathan Stewart going even later in drafts than Williams, it may even make sense to roster them both, and lock up the Panthers’ starting RB for the cost of a couple double digit picks.

The Case Against DeAngelo Williams (Mike)

It’s certainly tough to argue against Williams from a pure value perspective, especially when his value also apparently includes being an awesome human being. But allow me to take a crack at it anyway.

Pat did a great job of addressing the surface concerns with DeAngelo, but just to reiterate: He’s a 31 year old RB with over 1,500 career touches, he scored three TDs last year, and outside of a six game season he played in 2010, he just posted his worst yards per carry total since his rookie campaign.

Now, a major part of Pat’s argument is that he can offset a decline in rushing efficiency with an uptick in passing usage. Pat’s right that there are a lot of targets up for grabs in the Panthers offense, but does that necessarily mean that DeAngelo Williams is in line to get a large chunk of them? In Cam’s first three seasons DeAngelo Williams has received a total of 79 targets.  In 2013 that would only have been seventh best among RBs as a single season total. Even the man who puts the silent g in gnarly,Chris Ogbonnaya, managed to post 75 targets in 2013, just four short of Williams’ career total with Cam Newton under center. The last time DeAngelo had more than 30 receptions was his rookie season in 2006, and even then he only had 33. A pass catching dynamo he ain’t, and expecting him to morph into one at 31 years old seems iffy at best.

Furthermore, if you add up Cam Newton’s career target numbers for Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Kenjon Barner, Mike Goodson, and Jerome Felton (aka every running back he’s ever thrown to) you get a total of 253, which is just over 84 RB targets a season. Among the 14 QBs who have played at least 40 games over the last three seasons,6 that would place him outside the top ten. It doesn’t appear that Cam is particularly fond of throwing to his backs, and remember: as Pat himself pointed out, Williams hasn’t even been Cam’s favorite target among RBs. Meanwhile, the immortal Brandon LaFell had 216 targets over that same time-frame, and his 6.35 AYA with Newton last year implies that it has been his role in the offense, and not his efficiency, that accounts for his usage.7 Yes, there are a lot of targets up for grabs here, but that’s just as likely to bode well for the bye week fill-in prospects of Jericho Cotchery and/or Jason Avant as it is for DeAngelo Williams’ passing game usage.

Finally, since science has conclusively proven that it’s impossible to talk about Williams without also talking about Jonathan Stewart, let’s take a look at this heat map:

DwilliamsJStew Heat Map

OK, a couple of takeaways here:

1. DeAngelo has been impressively durable over the last three seasons. That bodes well for his RB2 prospects if Stewart does miss time.

2. However, it appears that Stewart’s injury concerns may be overstated. This is a player who in his first four seasons missed two out of a possible 64 games.  That, combined with the fact that he’s supposedly the healthiest he’s been since 2011, means we shouldn’t just assume he’ll miss significant time in 2014.

3. These guys have been in the epitome of a timeshare. Last year was the first since 2009 that one averaged over two rushing attempts per game more than the other, and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Williams’ two best seasons in terms of receiving yards per game were 2013, in which Stewart played the least amount of games in his career, and 2006, two years before Stewart was in the NFL. If Stewart plays a full season, which again, seems more likely than people want to admit, rostering both of them may lead to more frustration than fantasy glory, and Williams’ upside will be severely capped.

And that really is the key word here: upside. For as much of it as we want to project onto Williams, we’ve pretty much already seen his upside: last season, in which Stewart was out for his longest stretch ever, Williams averaged his most rushing attempts per game since 2010, and Williams also put up his best AYA numbers with Newton to date. And he still only finished as PPR RB 25, which is usually a mid-high level flex back, depending on your league size.

Again, given that he’s roughly being drafted in the handcuff range of RBs, I don’t hate the ADP value, but there are some very intriguing potential difference makers going after Williams, like Pat’s own boy DeAndre Hopkins, that you may be wise to consider instead.

  1. Not to worry, our series on kickers IS coming, though it will mostly be the mad ramblings of our estranged brother Hugo.  (back)
  2. Not Mike, he’s my little baby brother. If you tweet at him, call him Mikey, he prefers being called Mikey, I swear.  (back)
  3. Hakeem Nicks, Carlos Hyde, DeAndre Hopkins  (back)
  4. for a total of 263 targets  (back)
  5. Adjusted Yards per Attempt is a variation of Yards per Attempt that accounts for Touchdowns and Interceptions.  (back)
  6. Cam played all 48.  (back)
  7. It also helps explain why the Panthers made no real effort to resign him.  (back)

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