Is Damien Williams Really a Top-12 Fantasy Football Running Back?
As they say, there are only a few things that are absolutely for certain in our lives: death, taxes, and running backs putting up big numbers under Andy Reid. Entering the 2019 season, that running back is set to be Damien Williams. There appears to be some questions surrounding Williams being used as the featured back. It could be because he went undrafted in 2014, or the fact that he has never handled more than 73 touches in a season so far in his five-year career.
Williams had never been given a real chance to prove his worth in the NFL until Reid was forced to go his way after the Kareem Hunt suspension last year. In the four regular season games in which Williams played on 50% or more of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive snaps without Hunt, he had the following weekly PPR finishes: RB8, RB2, RB4, and RB12. Let's not also forget that his strong play down the stretch got him awarded with a two-year extension.
Even with Kansas City bringing in Carlos Hyde and drafting Darwin Thompson to round out the running back group, the team made it a point to get the word out early in the offseason to announce that Williams is the Chiefs starting running back. Knowing this information, and the fact that we as fantasy players have always coveted the lead back under Andy Reid makes Williams has a strong case to finish as a weekly top 12 running back.
Running Backs Under Andy Reid
Andy Reid has been a head coach in the NFL for 20 seasons, and one thing for certain is that he is one of the best offensive minds in league history. As a head coach, only four times has his team ranked in the bottom half of the league in scoring. Even more remarkable is that 60% of the time, his teams have ranked in the top ten in terms of scoring. He took it to another level last season when the Chiefs lead the league in points per game (35.3) and yards per game (425.6).
An obvious, but successful approach to fantasy is to target players in positive offensive situations, for reference the Chiefs produced the QB1 (Patrick Mahomes), WR1 (Tyreek Hil), and TE1 (Travis Kelce) last season. If we combined the outputs of Hunt and Williams, they would have finished as the RB6.
The starting running back under Reid has proven to be a highly successful commodity in terms of fantasy outputs. He has always favored using one back as evident by the touch counts in the table below.
(Data pulled from Pro Football Reference)
Reid has consistently provided his starting backs with workhorse like volume, anywhere from 17-20 touches per game. Even a guy like Spencer Ware, who had no previous track record of showing he could handle heavy volume, was given 17.6 touches per game. If we can project Williams for that type of workload in this positive offensive environment it's hard not to see him being a valuable fantasy asset.
When looking back at Williams finish to last season, even though it was only a small sample size (six games including two in the playoffs), Williams showed the ability to handle 17.5 touches per game and turn that into 1.4 PPR per touch. While his nine touchdowns over that six-game span are sure to regress, the volume expectation should be right in line with how he finished the season. Even if we remove five touchdowns from his six-game run as a starter last year, Williams would still average 1.1 PPR per touch, and if we extrapolate that over 15 games at 17.5 touches that would have placed him as the RB6 (288.8 PPR Pts) last season.
Separating From The Competition
As mentioned earlier, Reid relies heavily on one back and we have twenty years of history to support that. There are still people out there with concerns that Hyde and/or Thompson could threaten Williams' role.
Let’s go ahead and debunk this line of thinking. Carlos Hyde can't seem to find a home where he is embraced, the Chiefs will now make this his fourth team in twelve months. The Chiefs probably don't think too highly of him based on the fact that he signed only a one-year deal.
Another big issue is the fact that Hyde lacks receiving skills, and being able to catch the ball out of the backfield is vastly important under Reid. Even dating back to his three seasons at Ohio State, Hyde has only one season with more than 27 receptions. That one year was in 2017 when C.J. Beathard & Brian Hoyer relied on the RB dump off. Hyde caught 59 balls for 350 yards for a measly 5.9 yards per reception. Reid’s starting running back has seen an average of 51.7 receptions over 20 seasons, so relying on a one-dimensional back in Hyde would be out of the norm.
For those on the Darwin Thompson bandwagon, he was drafted in the sixth round and history shows that typically those running backs don’t produce in year one. To add more insult to injury, his body build has a not been one that has been successful in the NFL at the running back position, especially in year one.
Using the Pro Football References Play Index, we can see that there have only been four rookie running backs drafted in the sixth round or later that measured under 5’8” to see any action in their first season over the last 30 years, and none of them saw more than 20 touches.
With a few other rookies and Darrel Williams, who Damien beat out last season, as the only other options on the roster right now Damien looks ripe to see the volume necessary to produce at a high-end level.
Williams Is Being Undervalued
Williams was able to show out at the end of last season, and the Chiefs offense continued to chug along with him after the Hunt suspension. He was the PPR RB5 from Week 13 on. He fits the prototypical back for Andy Reid’s offensive scheme and demonstrated the ability to handle a volume role. Currently, he is going off the board in DRAFT best balls and season-long redrafts as either the RB12 or RB13 according to FFCalculator and FantasyPros. At that price, Williams seems like a screaming value. We already have stats that show us that has a top-five ceiling, and the fact that he plays in one of the most fantasy-friendly offense makes him more appealing compared to a few other backs around his ADP. Barring no injury, Williams seems like a no brainer to perform at an RB1 (top 12) level.