Is Chiefs RB Damien Williams Undervalued in Fantasy Football?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Damien Williams
- Andy Reid has had a productive fantasy football running back almost every season of his career. Is Damien Williams next?
- Ian Hartitz analyzes Williams' outlook for 2019 and whether the Kansas City Chiefs RB is being properly valued.
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The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense was historically great in 2018: Their average of 35.3 points per game trailed only the 2007 Patriots (36.8 points per game) and 2013 Broncos (37.9 PPG) as the highest-scoring offenses of the Super Bowl era.
The captain of this effort was league MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Unlimited arm strength didn’t help defenses figure out a way to contain Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, while anybody and everybody who lined up in the backfield seemed to find their way into the end zone sooner than later.
The season didn’t end the way the Chiefs hoped, but the experience might’ve helped them stumble upon their running back of the immediate future. Let’s breakdown the likelihood of Damien Williams inheriting the Chiefs’ starting running back job and what type of value this role offers in fantasy football.
Damien Williams Slowly Took over the Chiefs’ Backfield in 2018
Kareem Hunt was suspended and released prior to the team’s Week 13 matchup against the Raiders. Spencer Ware took control of the backfield following the release of Hunt, but Ware was injured during the team’s Week 14 victory over the Ravens.
It was now time for the Damien Williams show.
The former Dolphins’ running back never averaged even 4.0 yards per carry in a season between 2014 and 2017, although he did offer a theoretical three-down skill set with plus size at 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, a 4.45-second 40-yard speed, and capable hands .
Williams played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps in four of his five games as the Chiefs’ featured back, with the only non-qualifying game occurring in a meaningless Week 17 matchup against the Raiders.
It was tough to keep the man off the field.
Williams found himself atop most of the position’s leaderboards in terms of production during Weeks 13-17 after Hunt was removed from the equation:
- Touches: 67 (T-22nd)
- Rush attempts: 47 (25th)
- Targets: 21 (T-13th)
- Total yards: 255 (20th)
- Total touchdowns: 6 (second)
- PPR: 93.7 (fifth)
Williams (No. 51 in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating among 73 qualified backs) wasn’t quite in Hunt’s (No. 4) stratosphere as a tackle-breaking talent. Williams also wasn’t asked to attack defenses downfield in a similar manner as we’ve seen from Hunt.
Still, there doesn’t seem to be another running back on the Chiefs roster who immediately stands out as a better option than the incumbent starter.
The Chiefs Backfield Offers Little Competition
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach stated in February that the team’s starting job is Williams’ to lose. Of course, money speaks a lot louder than words when it comes to attempting to predict what a player’s role could look like.
Recent signs also point to Williams. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy specifically said, “Damien Williams is our starter … we expect him to excel in that role.”
And why shouldn’t Williams be the starter? It’s not like the Chiefs backfield is overflowing with better options.
Current RBs on the Chiefs …
Damien Williams: Two-year contract worth $5.1 million
Carlos Hyde: One-year contract worth $2.8 million
Darwin Thompson: 2019 sixth-round pick
Darrel Williams: 2018 undrafted free agent
Marcus Marshall: 2019 UDFA
James Williams: 2019 UDFA
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 28, 2019
There’s certainly a world where Carlos Hyde receivers a larger early-down workload than anticipated, but it’s still tough to see him keeping Williams on the bench for long. The Chiefs will be Hyde’s fourth team since 2017, and he’s failed to average even 4.0 yards per carry on any.
Yes, Hyde was force fed 59 passes in 2017 as Kyle Shanahan’s featured back. But Hyde has also worked as one of the position’s least efficient receivers since entering the league in 2014.
Damien Williams a huge post-draft winner. He's going to play a ton in 2019 because Carlos Hyde has been a truly sub-par pass catcher since he entered the NFL:
• 46th-of-46 in yards per target (3.97)
• 46th-of-46 in yards after catch (5.50)
• 37th-of-46 in catch rate (71%)
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) April 30, 2019
There are also a group of Darwin Thompson truthers throughout the ever-electric fantasy football industry. It’s easy to see why: Thompson averaged the third-most missed tackles per touch among draft-eligible running backs in 2018 (per Pro Football Focus) while demonstrating considerable upside as a receiver with 23 receptions for 351 yards (15.3 yards per catch!) and two touchdowns in 2018.
However, the list of rookie running backs drafted outside of the top-three rounds who make an immediate impact is very short. Only 2012 Alfred Morris, 2016 Jordan Howard, 2013 Zac Stacy and 2018 Philip Lindsay managed to post top-20 fantasy seasons rookies over the past 10 years after not being drafted within the first three rounds.
Perhaps one of Thompson, Darrel Williams, Marcus Marshall or James Williams will be good enough to carve out a small role in 2019, but history tells us that the odds are stacked against them.
This leaves Williams atop the depth chart, which certainly seems like good news for his future fantasy investors.
Life as Andy Reid’s No. 1 Rb Has Been Good for Business
Andy Reid oversaw the Eagles from 1999-2012 before taking the Kansas City job in 2013. One of the consistent features of his offenses has been a fantasy-friendly role for whoever emerges as the team’s lead back:
Andy Reid has produced a top-12 RB in PPR per game in 15/20 seasons as a head coach and a top-5 RB in 9/20 seasons. pic.twitter.com/QAZqX9QzpR
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 28, 2019
Reid has enabled a top-12 scoring offense in 12 of his 14 seasons as a head coach. He’s faced criticism in both Philadelphia and Kansas City for not running the ball more, but this hasn’t been much of an issue for fantasy purposes thanks to his ability to involve running backs in the passing game.
Williams was certainly on the same page with Mahomes in 2018, catching 33-of-38 targets (87% catch rate!) for 251 yards and four scores.
Williams joins Theo Riddick, Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram and Giovani Bernard as the only running backs with at least 20 catches in each of the past five seasons.
Even if Hyde and/or Thompson manage to seize a portion of snaps in the Chiefs’ backfield, it would be a surprise if either is able to unseat Williams as the offense’s lead pass-game back. That ability, combined with at least some (and maybe a lot) of rush attempts in what figures to be one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses, makes Williams a value at his current PPR RB13 average draft position.