Mike Williams Is Worth His WR3 Price Tag (2019 Fantasy Football)
Can you name the only wide receiver in the last 10 years who finished as a top-20 wide receiver with fewer than 70 targets? I’ll save you time, it’s Mike Williams. After missing most of his rookie season due to a back injury, Williams finished as the No. 20 wide receiver in 2018.
Was it a fluke? Is it repeatable? And what’s the risk/reward with the No. 2 wide receiver in the Chargers offense? If there’s one thing we know about Williams, it’s that the Chargers love him. They drafted the 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft and he’s done nothing but live up to expectations so far. Let’s talk about whether or not he’s worthy of being drafted as the 26th wide receiver off the board (where he’s currently being drafted).
Even if Williams turns out to be one of the best red zone receiving options in the league, he’s going to regress in 2019. He scored 10 touchdowns on just 66 targets, or one every 6.6 targets. Over the last 10 years, there have been just three wide receivers (minimum 25 targets) who’ve caught a touchdown at a higher rate. Martavis Bryant caught one every 6.0 targets in 2014, then went to every 15.3 targets in 2015. Mohamed Sanu caught one every 6.3 targets in 2012, then one every 38.5 targets in 2013. Lastly, Jordy Nelson caught one every 6.4 targets in 2011, then dropped to one every 10.4 targets in 2012. The question becomes: Just how much will he regress?
LIMITED PLAYING TIME
You may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t Williams get the targets if he was so efficient?” Well, he was running as the third wide receiver on the depth chart, fighting to reach 70 percent of the snaps. There were just three games in 2018 where he hit that number, while there were seven games he played less than 60 percent of the snaps. It’s noteworthy that he scored multiple touchdowns in 2-of-3 games when playing 70 percent of snaps.
His snaps are going to change in 2019, as he’ll be running as the No. 2 receiver behind only Keenan Allen. It’s the position Tyrell Williams was in last year, which netted at least 70 percent of the snaps in every game, including 10 games with at least 80 percent of the snaps. Comparing the overall numbers to last year, Mike Williams should play roughly 150 more snaps than he did last year.
NATURAL CAREER PROGRESSION
There are still some out there who cancel out the targets left behind by Tyrell Williams because Hunter Henry is returning to the lineup after missing all of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. That’s not the way you should be looking at it, as tight ends have a completely different role than wide receivers and their roles don’t clash. Think about it this way – the Chargers not only lost Tyrell Williams‘ targets, but they also lost Antonio Gates‘ targets.
On top of that, Williams is entering year three of his NFL career, which happens to be when most receivers start to break out. He’ll be 25 this year, too, which is one of the better ages for wide receivers. Based on a study I did this offseason (read it here), there have been 124 separate seasons that a wide receiver has played at the age of 25 and saw at least 50 targets in the last 12 years. 16.9 percent of them finished as a top-12 fantasy receiver, the third-highest percentage of all ages. Williams is entering the prime of his career.
We always try to address the downside in every profile, because if there wasn’t any downside, everyone would rank Williams inside their top-20 receivers and this profile would be unnecessary. When it comes to Williams, we’ve never seen him play in a full-time role. It’s fair to wonder if his efficiency was due to him coming on in three-wide receiver sets and not getting the full attention of the defense.
We also can’t forget the reason he didn’t play much his rookie season – back issues. From someone who’s had back surgery (fusion), believe me when I say that back injuries don’t ever disappear. His injury was a herniated disc that didn’t require surgery, which is good, but ask anyone with back problems; they’ll often rear their ugly head again when you least expect it. While you never want to anticipate injuries, you must account for injuries that can be reoccurring.
This is the classic risk/reward scenario with an up-and-coming wide receiver. The reason Williams is likely worth the risk is because he comes with legitimate top-12 wide receiver upside. That’s not something you will find at the wide receiver position in the sixth-round very often. While he has some injury concerns of his own, we also can’t overlook the injury history of Keenan Allen. While he’s been healthy the last two seasons, he missed a combined 26 games the prior three years. Should something happen to Allen, Williams walks into a double-digit target role that would make him a top-10 weekly starter and league winner.
We know that ceiling is there, while the floor should remain intact as long as he stays on the field. Playing 80 percent of the snaps for Philip Rivers has its benefits, just ask Tyrell Williams who netted a $44 million contract with the Raiders. There are other receivers in Williams’ range who come with similar risk, but don’t present the upside that he does. He’s one of the best WR3s available in the sixth round, as you can live with some ups and downs with that spot in your lineup, though it’s likely you’re going to see more ups than downs. Call me crazy, but I’ll take Williams over Tyler Lockett, who is going nearly a full round before him.