As we inch closer to the start of the regular NFL season and the injuries continue to mount, it’s become clear that there is one backfield to keep our eyes on. That backfield is Kansas City. Damien Williams is consistently being drafted in the second round. Much to the chagrin of fantasy owners, he’s come down with a hamstring early in training camp that’s kept him off the field.
Despite the strong finish in 2018, could it be wise to pace expectations for Williams in 2019?
Williams truthers most often cite the potential in the offensive system to rationalize his high draft cost. However, the offensive system argument is a double edged sword. While an Andy Reid offense might be beneficial to Williams, it’s also beneficial to … everyone else.
When Kareem Hunt was cut following Week 11, Spencer Ware was the next man up. Yes, despite Williams’ presence on the roster all of 2018, Ware was the clear cut number two. Damien Williams is a guy who excelled in the role once Ware went out with a hamstring injury, amassing 322 yards from scrimmage and four total TDs on just 48 total touches in three games as a starter in the regular NFL season. Not too shabby, right?
When we’re looking at Kansas City running backs, this stat line seems pretty par for the course. With and without Williams in the active lineup for 2018, we see an almost identical team rushing stat line. It’s impossible to argue that Damien Williams hasn’t succeeded in the offensive system. Doesn’t his out of the blue success make you wonder just how much of that was Andy Reid fairy dust was in the air?
In other words, the thing that makes Damien Williams so intriguing also makes him risky, since the offense ticks right along without him. A running back who is expendable is just that, and to be easily replaceable is not a good thing – especially if you’re currently injured. There’s a number of guys waiting to make gains on those first team reps behind Damien Williams, including veteran Carlos Hyde and rookie Darwin Thompson. These guys come at a much lower cost and play in the same offensive system, with what would seem to be similar upside. Hyde is a backup RB whose ADP puts him in a group that has historically outproduced. Thompson crushed his pro day and looks like the sort of breather back that turns Zero-RB squads into fantasy champions.
Both have seen their ADPs rise over the last week or so, but both are still probably cheaper than they should be considering the combination of upside they have in this offense and the risks associated with Williams
The Contract Extension
Williams did recently sign an extension, but it’s worth looking at carefully to see just what the Chiefs have invested in him. Back in December of 2018, the Chiefs signed Williams to a two-year extension that totaled just $1.6 million in guaranteed money. This is just $100,000 more in guarantees than what was given to Hyde, a free agent who was previously cut by the Jags.
Is a contract everything? Certainly not. However, the Chiefs have had their moment to pay Damien Williams as their guy, and they haven’t. There is not a single starting running back in the NFL no longer on his rookie deal who has a contract with less total value.
Dollars and cents may not correlate directly with fantasy points. However, the more money that is invested in a player, the more incentive there is to keep him on the field and involved in the offense for the sole sake of gaining return on said investment.
Am I saying the upside for Williams isn’t there? Absolutely not. I am saying, however, that the upside might not be worth the risk at his current cost. With Williams out, Hyde and Thompson seem to be dominating the first team reps, and Andy Reid says they have been taking advantage of those reps. Shawn Siegele has already made the case for avoiding Williams based on his ADP and small sample of NFL success. As long as he can’t play while backs behind him show they can, we have even more reason to avoid him. If Williams misses any more of the pre-season, we might start to see his ADP fall out of the second and third rounds. Until then, consider going elsewhere with your early picks.