While signings and trades involving Le’Veon Bell, Odell Beckham, and Antonio Brown have reshaped the fantasy landscape, all three players will remain megastars. In free agency, the moves that make the biggest difference for fantasy owners are often the little ones, tiny shifts in the tectonic plates that lead to earthquakes down the line.
Damien Williams entered the NFL after a down final season at Oklahoma, but there wasn’t much question about his athleticism. After he ran a 4.45 forty at 222 pounds to go with a 34-reception season the previous year for the Sooners, the Fantasy Douche picked him as a player to watch. And watch him, we did, although patience was required through four tedious seasons with Miami. Williams caught 20-plus passes each year but never even carried 50 times. Despite a frequently barren depth chart ahead of him, the Dolphins always found an excuse to go a different direction.
Williams signed with Kansas City before the 2018 season, and it was more of the same for the first 11 games. He carried only three times and earned a paltry three targets before Kareem Hunt was released. After losing the bulk of the work to Spencer Ware in Week 13, Williams then exploded down the stretch and in the playoffs. He averaged more than 20 points per game, reached 90-plus yards from scrimmage four times, earned at least five targets in five of six contests, and scored 10 touchdowns.
Williams is not necessarily a better back than Hunt – stretching back to college, the new Cleveland Brown has too strong a track record over the last five years to make that claim – but he’s a more athletic back with plus receiving skills. Getting an opportunity to play with Patrick Mahomes in an Andy Reid offense unlocked his potential, and he’s settled in with an overall ADP of 32 even after the Carlos Hyde signing.
If you weren’t stashing Williams at mid-season last year, you’ve missed out on his rise, but did free agency provide us a new opportunity to invest in a similar situation?
The 2019 Damien Williams?
On one hand, it’s a little silly to start with the premise that an unlikely event from the previous season will find its simulacrum in the upcoming campaign, but it always makes sense to make sure we’re keeping our eyes out for players who may be sitting on undiscovered talent in a potentially plum situation.
Moreover, we always want to stash players with similar traits to Williams – plus size, plus athleticism, plus pass-catching ability, and, the kicker, moving from a bad offense to a good one.
During 2019 free agency, Mike Davis was one of the first RBs to change squads, jumping from the Seattle Seahawks to the Chicago Bears. Davis isn’t an exact copy of Williams, but he shares a number of intriguing characteristics. The South Carolina star was viewed as a top prospect after gaining over 1,500 yards from scrimmage as a college sophomore, but his star faded over the following year, culminating in a 4.61 forty at the combine that dropped him into the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft.
Davis isn’t a speed freak, but his shuttle and cone results were both above the 60th percentile, impressive numbers for a 217-pound back. While we always want speed first and foremost, big backs with plus agility make up one of the best athletic profiles for an NFL runner. Davis doesn’t match the size/agility profiles of players like Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Doug Martin,1 but he pairs his above-average movement with the key to fantasy success – pass-catching ability.
Davis caught 66 passes over his last two seasons at South Carolina, but he hauled in only 25 passes during his first three NFL campaigns. After flunking out of San Francisco, he joined the Seahawks as a deep backup in 2017 before emerging as part of a committee this past season. Davis was twice as efficient as breakout back Chris Carson on a per play basis,2 and he was the trusted receiver with C.J. Prosise again failing to find relevance.
The Fit in Chicago
Chicago and Seattle were two of the 10 best rushing offenses in 2018. Moving from the Seahawks to the Bears isn’t quite like moving from the Dolphins to the Chiefs, but the Bears are definitely the preferred unit.
|OFF||ruEP||ruFPOE||reEP||reFPOE||Total EP||Total FPOE||PPR|
The Bears slot in at No. 6 in three key areas, total expected points (EP), total points over expected (FPOE), and actual points (PPR). Only the Chiefs, Panthers, and Chargers were more efficient when throwing to their RBs. But most importantly, the Bears owned an almost 70-point advantage on the Seahawks in RB reEP. Since team points in the receiving game for RBs are much more predictive than RB team rushing points,3 this is a huge potential benefit.
Of course, we don’t know how the depth chart will shake out in Chicago. It’s anticipated that Jordan Howard will be traded – perhaps during the draft – but these types of moves don’t always come to fruition. And although this is one of the weakest RB classes in memory, it would be a blow if a back like David Montgomery landed in Chicago.4
We also must consider Tarik Cohen. Howard is likely on his way out due to the poor fit in Matt Nagy’s offense. While Davis supplies the flexible three-down profile Nagy covets, it’s certainly possible that adding a non-name like Davis provides cover for the Bears head coach to use Cohen in a Christian McCaffrey-lite role. Cohen was sixth in RB receptions last season with 71. Davis could take a bite out of that number or Cohen could find substantially more snaps and challenge for the 2019 RB receiving title.
There are still plenty of moving pieces in Chicago even before we consider potential 2019 injuries. Scenarios exist where Davis returns to his minimal value of 2015-2017, and he’ll likely stall out around his 2018 numbers even if things go well. But you can also conjure plenty of realistic scenarios where Mitchell Trubisky takes the next step, Chicago scores like the Chiefs and Rams, and Davis is the beneficiary of a depth chart that opens up in-season.
He’s certainly an interesting player to stash, buy, and watch at his price.
- The Doug Martin who joined the NFL in 2012 and gained over 1,900 yards from scrimmage. I doubt the current version retains that quickness. (back)
- 0.11 to 0.05 in ruFPOEPA (back)
- You can go to the RotoViz Screener and explore this in both the linear regression and graphs tabs. (back)
- Montgomery failed the combine in spectacular fashion but is an all-around back with 71 college receptions. (back)