Can Damien Williams Thrive in a Featured Role? (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Jul 21, 2019

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As we come down the home stretch of the NFL (and fantasy football) offseason, the arguments about the league’s top RBs are heating up. The RB position is the most highly-coveted in fantasy football, because landing a stud back can win you a championship. Conversely, whiffing on a back early can cost you dearly. One back drawing some strong differing opinions among fantasy owners is the Chiefs’ Damien Williams. Momentum (and ADP) is picking up for Williams, but what can we expect from him in 2019?

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HOW DID HE GET HERE?

Williams was drafted by the Dolphins in 2015 after two promising seasons with Oklahoma. He spent the first four years of his career as a change-of-pace back where he did most of his work in the receiving game. He racked up 1,210 scrimmage yards on 218 total touches in his Miami tenure, scoring nine total TDs in the process. Though his output was small, Williams was very efficient with his limited workload, compiling a very healthy 5.6 yards per touch and shining as a receiver out of the backfield.

Williams took on an extended role with the Dolphins during the 2017 season after Jay Ajayi’s trade to Philadelphia ahead of Week 9 and split work with Kenyan Drake from Weeks 9-12. Williams looked to be the more productive back during that time, though a shoulder injury  derailed what could have been a promising finish to the season. He missed the final five games of 2017 and left Miami for Kansas City in 2018.

Williams played backup to Kareem Hunt, taking on little work before Hunt was cut from the Chiefs for a domestic violence incident late in the year. Williams started the last three games of the regular season, where he totaled generous stat lines of 34/203/3 rushing and 14/119/1 receiving.

His production increased even more in the playoffs, where he racked up lines of 35/159/2 rushing and 10/91/2 receiving in two games. Williams enjoyed a magical finish to the season, totaling a ridiculous 69/362/5 rushing line and a 24/210/3 receiving line over the final five games of the year, including the playoffs. That works out to an average of 114 scrimmage yards, 4.8 receptions, and 1.6 TDs per contest. Those are solid RB1 numbers. Though it’s still a small sample size, the talent is there for Williams to carry his end-of-season momentum into 2018 and continue to produce at a high level.

TOP OF THE DEPTH CHART?

Possibly the biggest fantasy concern for Williams is his usage. He’s joined by Carlos Hyde, Darrell Williams, and rookie Darwin Thompson in the backfield. Despite offseason speculation that Hyde will share some backfield duties, Williams looks like the favorite to handle a majority of the work in Kansas City’s high-octane offense. Over the last month and a half, Williams has received high praise from offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and most recently, head coach Andy Reid. Said Reid of Williams, “We’re asking him to be the full-time starter for the year,” and “He’s earned the right to be that guy.”

Darrell Williams is a complimentary back at best who is coming off a hamstring injury suffered in last year’s playoffs. Hyde is a quality backup, but he’s playing on his fourth team in the last two years and isn’t a likely threat to steal significant touches from Damien Williams. It’s impossible to say with complete certainty that Williams will handle the majority of the backfield work, but all signs point to that being the case.

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A HISTORY OF ANDY REID RBs

How will Williams fare in his first season as the lead back in an offense? If history repeats itself, Williams is in good shape. Take a look at Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt in their first year with Andy Reid:

Player Year Rush Att Rush Yds Rush TD Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Scrimmage Yards Total TDs
Jamaal Charles 2013 259 1,287 12 70 693 7 1,980 19
Kareem Hunt 2017 272 1,327 8 53 455 3 1,782 11

 
Both Charles and Hunt had the best statistical seasons of their respective careers in their first year with Andy Reid. Charles led the league in scrimmage yards, rushing TDs and total TDs, and Hunt was the rushing champ. Could Williams be in for a similar run in his first full year as a starter in Andy Reid’s offense? Let’s hope so. Williams has all the tools necessary to succeed in a featured role, including pass-catching ability. This allows him to be a three-down back and rack up the touches. Hunt and Charles averaged 327 total touches between the two seasons listed above, and if Williams sees a similar workload, his production will be off-the-charts good. Using that touch total multiplying it by Williams’ career 5.6 yards per touch average, the numbers work out to 1,831 scrimmage yards. Obviously, his total usage has been a small sample size, so some regression is expected, but it won’t fall off tremendously.

Expect Williams to explode for a breakout season and reward fantasy owners who dare to draft him in the back of the second Round. Currently being drafted at RB13, I like him more than the four guys going right before him in Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Todd Gurley, and Joe Mixon. Williams might be a first-time lead back, but his injury concerns are minimal, and his offense may be the best in the league. The upside is tremendous for a breakout campaign. Williams will be a league-winner this year at his current price. Go get him!

2019 Projections: 240 rush attempts, 1,125 rushing yards, 63 receptions, 525 receiving yards, 12 total TDs, RB8

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Zachary Hanshew is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.

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