Damien Williams: First Round Fantasy Football Pick
Damien Williams is being ranked and drafted erroneously. As of this moment, his Expert Consensus Ranking on Fantasy Pros (which combines rankings from across the industry) plants him as the 43rd overall player. At the running back position, he is being ranked behind Derrick Henry, Kerryon Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and Marlon Mack. He is the 21st ranked running back by fantasy football experts. None of this makes an iota of sense to me.
For Damien Williams to be ranked outside of the Top 10 of fantasy football running backs, you would either have to assume that A) The Kansas City Chiefs do not plan on having Damien Williams as their top running back or B) Damien Williams is going to split carries with another running back. Maybe even more disastrously, you would have to believe that C) the Kansas City Chiefs will be significantly worse on offense in 2019.
The probability of A, the Kansas City Chiefs moving on from Damien Williams as their top running back is infinitely more likely than B, Damien Williams splitting carries with another running back. The probability of C seems infinitesimal to me but we will visit that as well. Scott Barrett provides evidence of that position in this tweet and spreadsheet.
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) May 1, 2017
From 2004 to 2016, Andy Reid’s top running back was a fantasy football RB1 and achieved a majority of the available backfield touches. In 2017, Kareem Hunt had 325 touches while Charcandrick West had 45. In 2018, until Kareem Hunt’s suspension, Spencer Ware most touches in a non-blowout game was seven against Cleveland in week nine. When Hunt was gone, Ware out-touched Damien Williams 15-7 and 20-13. Then with Ware injured, Damien Williams had 16, 20, 12, 30 and 15 touches. Spencer Ware recorded one postseason touch and Darrel Williams had three carries in mop-up duty against the Colts. Andy Reid has almost used one running back to lead his offense and did so with Damien Williams last season, especially when it counted in the playoffs.
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So then we have to turn our attention to the other part of the probability spectrum. Is it probable, likely or even in the realm of the reasonable that the Kansas City Chiefs replace Damien Williams as their lead rusher in 2019? The Chiefs did add Carlos Hyde to the roster to replace the role that Spencer Ware will leave behind. Darrell Williams and special teamer J.D Moore are the other running backs on the roster. Carlos Hyde is not a replacement for Williams any more than C.J Spiller was ever a replacement for Ware. Hyde averaged 3.3 and 3.9 yards per carry his last two NFL seasons. He was below average in Defensive Yards Above Replacement his last full season in San Francisco and was worthless for two NFL teams last season. There is a very low probability that Hyde impinges on Damien Williams’ workload in Kansas City. Andy Reid has already spoken to feeling comfortable with Damien Williams as a workhorse runner in 2019.
The next assessment to the likelihood that Damien Williams is replaced as the lead running back on the best offense in football relies on the NFL Draft. To say that the Kansas City Chiefs roster has holes would be kind. They lost Mitch Morse who was Pro Football Focus’ seventh-ranked pass blocking center to the Buffalo Bills. He is being replaced by a center, Austin Reiter, who has played 335 career snaps. They also lost their 4th and 6th leading target-getters from 2018 in Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris. Justin Houston and Dee Ford also departed in the offseason, leaving massive holes along the front seven. Kansas City had some of the worst cornerback play in the NFL last season with no cornerbacks ranking inside Pro Football Focus’ top 30 graded corners. Overall, the Chiefs defense allowed the second-most passing yards, the second-highest yards per carry and were the third-worst defense by expected points. This is a MISERABLE unit that Andy Reid and the front office will want to improve. All of this is not to mention the fact that Tyreek Hill may be suspended or cut due to a pending investigation of an off-field incident. In what world would replacing Damien Williams in the NFL Draft fall into even the Top 10 most pressing needs for a team that has a Super Bowl window open right now this second? Not a world I want to live in.
Finally, we need to address the probability that the Kansas City Chiefs offense is meaningfully worse in 2019. Patrick Mahomes just had the second 5,000 passing yard, 50-touchdown season in NFL history. The only other quarterback to accomplish that was Peyton Manning. It is possible that Tyreek Hill is unavailable for the Chiefs and that would certainly make them worse. The Chiefs will probably score fewer points and average a lower number of yards per play but there is nothing to outright indicate that they will fall to league-average because they have the best quarterback in football. That matters more than any other data point in projecting KC for 2019.
So to add it all up, for Damien Williams to be ranked 43rd overall or outside the Top 20 at running back is a calamity. In order to not rank Williams at least where Hunt was drafted last year (RB8, 9th overall), you have to believe that Andy Reid will place more importance on drafting a running back than on improving his defense or replacing Chris Conley and Demetrius Harris. You also have to believe that if the Chiefs don’t draft a running back that Carlos Hyde, Darrell Williams or some undetermined free agent running back will convince Andy Reid to split backfield work in a way that he never has. The final option would be that you believe that Damien Williams is just flat out not good enough to be even 80% as efficient as Kareem Hunt was last season despite evidence to the contrary. The Chiefs signed Damien Williams to a contract extension and Williams averaged 5.1 yards per carry while catching 23 of his 24 targets before scoring five touchdowns in the playoffs.
Damien Williams For Fantasy Football in 2019
The fact of the matter is that running back talent is mostly a myth. About 90% of running back production can be explained by offensive environment and total interactions. The Chiefs are poised to be one of the best five offenses in the NFL even if Tyreek Hill is off the team due to Patrick Mahomes, the offensive line and Andy Reid. The lead running back in Kansas City should be close to a first-round pick in fantasy football, regardless of who it is. All of the available indicators that we have right now suggest that lead running back is Damien Williams. If all of that is true (and it is), how is it possible to rank him behind Derrick Henry? The idea that I concede to understanding, but disagreeing with is that the compounding probabilities of being replaced outright, the Chiefs offense taking a step back or splitting work with Hyde/unnamed draft pick introduce some uncertainty. Without that uncertainty, Williams would already be going where Hunt did last season. My assertion is that the uncertainty is, in fact, certain; for the Chiefs to waste cap dollars or draft picks on a running back would be unwise at best and there is little indication that Andy Reid wants to have a split work backfield.