Very Deep Sleepers: Damien Williams (Dolphins)
R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate Damien Williams of the Dolphins.
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You have to believe two things here to buy into the ‘sleeper’ opportunity: (1) You have to believe that Damien Williams is a quality receiving talent. (2) You also have to believe he actually has a chance to play a role this year in Miami…a role that might matter for fantasy football purposes – a role that might allow him to be the top scoring running back on the Miami Dolphins in 2016 for PPR leagues.
Good, I have your attention now.
You could argue that the Miami Dolphins have the worst running back depth in the entire NFL as of this publishing. I suppose the Cleveland Browns could be in that discussion. The Washington Redskins may want to throw their hat in the ring for that honor. Let’s at least agree that the Dolphins’ running back situation is ‘not great.’
The Dolphins lead running back for 2016 (as of this publishing), Jay Ajayi, is a running back who many teams passed on in the 2015 NFL Draft because of major fears surrounding his knee – rumor is a bone-on-bone situation. Microfracture surgery has been rumored as a matter of when not if. As if the injury stuff wasn’t enough of a fear, Ajayi didn’t blow anyone away in his debut last season. He had a nice couple of 20+ yard runs early on, and fantasy GMs instantly got excited, but go back and look over his entire 2015 – after his first two game appearances, Ajayi averaged 2.6 yards per carry in his final seven games. He also struggled to catch the football smoothly out of the backfield (barely used as a receiver outside of Week 12 in 2015). There’s a reason why Miami signed C.J. Anderson to an offer sheet this offseason. There’s also a reason why most Arian Foster rumors center around the Dolphins. Ajayi is a tenuous starter at best.
The supposed backup to Ajayi is a rookie – Kenyan Drake. The first two things that come to anyone’s mind about Drake: (1) he’s a receiving back specialist, not a workhorse…and (2) he’s always hurt. Drake has already had a hamstring issue in Miami’s OTAs this year.
Who is the next man up after Ajayi and Drake? It’s the running back with the most experience with Miami – Damien Williams.
I could argue for Williams with an angle of: “What if Jay Ajayi’s knee issue flared up?” But I’m not even going to go there. Ajayi is NOT the softest target to take out on Miami’s RB depth chart. The Williams rise to 2016 PPR prominence could be as simple as, “What if Kenyan Drake goes down again?”
Why did the Dolphins even draft Drake? Everyone knows Drake is a pass-game specialist out of the backfield, so obviously they drafted him for such a role. The player who has been working in that type of role the past two years for Miami, and pretty successfully I might add, is 2014 undrafted free agent Damien Williams. You would assume that the new coaching staff drafted Drake because they plan to utilize the running back in the passing game. What other reason would there be to select a pass-game specialist so highly? Obviously, the new coaches covet that ability. If always-injured Kenyan Drake gets injured – Damien Williams is then primed for that role.
Now, here comes the other part of the Damien Williams sleeper theory: if you see a pretty advantageous path to where Williams could stumble into the receiving running back specialist role on the team that desires to use one, you then have to believe that Williams has the ability to fill such a role. I’m here to tell you – that’s absolutely the case. I would argue that right now Damien Williams is the superior running back as a receiving weapon on the Miami roster today, even better than a healthy Kenyan Drake.
From their NFL Combine workouts
- 6′0″+/210, 9.5″ hands, 4.45 40-time, 1.64 10-yard, 7.04 three-cone, 34.5″ vertical, 10 bench reps = Drake
- 5′11″/222, 9.1″ hands, 4.45 40-time, 1.57 10-yard, 7.37 three-cone, 35.5″ vertical, 16 bench reps = Williams
Williams is a step slower in agility, but also consider he is 12 pounds thicker in a shorter frame. He is a solid-as-a-rock mauler once he gets the ball in his hands heading into the secondary. Drake is a taller, thinner, less-physical option. Drake is finesse and frail by comparison.
Best season as a receiver in college
- 29 catches for 276 yards and 1 TD = Drake (2015/Alabama)
- 34 catches for 320 yards and 1 TD = Williams (2012/Oklahoma)
Both guys are talented receivers. Williams has been very good catching the ball in the NFL. Watching his 2015 tape back for this article showed me that he’s a very natural receiver, one that can be used down the field as well as in the short game. He can play in the pass-game like a quasi-wide receiver.
You may not believe some of these receiving numbers I’m going to share with you from Williams’ two seasons in the NFL…
– In 31 career games, Williams has caught 42 passes (1.4 per game) for Miami…not bad, especially if you didn’t realize Williams was even involved in the Dolphins’ offense.
– Consider that several of Williams’ game appearances have been as a return man. In games where Williams worked his way more into the pass-game role, and saw two or more targets (17 times in his career), he averaged 2.3 catches for 13.7 yards per game while catching two TD passes. These numbers were produced mostly with Williams not on the field all that much, just inserted on a few pass-game plays.
– Over the final six games of 2015, you might be shocked to know who led Miami RBs in total receptions. Ajayi caught just five passes in the final six games of 2015, despite getting a ‘push’ for touches. Then starter Lamar Miller grabbed 12 catches in that span. Damien Williams led them all, as a very part-time offensive player, with 13 catches.
Damien Williams is, at a minimum, a Kenyan Drake injury away from a critical role on opening day 2016. Williams is a Drake ‘rookie struggles to grasp the offense’ away from a critical role on opening day 2016. If Adam Gase plans to push the ball to his running back in the pass game – and we all know that Tannehill is a short-game passer by nature – and if Drake is out of the picture, then Williams matters. He might matter a lot to a coach who covets this weapon in his offense.
Fantasy GMs are scouring the football earth to find an NFL team’s secondary running back who can rise up to prominence because of their team’s pass game. Who would’ve thought Duke Johnson or Charles Sims or Theo Riddick would matter so much for fantasy purposes when they’re not even their teams’ main/workhorse running backs? Some fantasy GMs are gambling, trying to find these hidden PPR guys ahead of the crowd: guys like Jerick McKinnon, Chris Thompson, or a James Starks. Damien Williams, not on anyone’s ADP radar today, might belong in this PPR ‘hopefuls’ discussion.
Williams has proven he can handle the receiving game out of the backfield at the NFL level. There is no mystery for Miami there. He is a Kenyan Drake injury or rookie struggle away from being Miami’s ‘PPR back.’ Jay Ajayi is not a terrific receiver out of the backfield, so the team needs a specialist – it’s either Drake or Williams.
If Miami signs Arian Foster, then you might have to wait on this theory for an extra 2–3 weeks into the season until Foster gets hurt and is out for the rest of the year.