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Considering the Consistency of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mike Williams

Looking at why Mike Williams should continue to produce big in 2013.

Depth in fantasy football is both a blessing and a problem. Having a strong bench from week-to-week gives you options, but it also means that you are more likely to leave points on the sideline when you desperately need them on the field. Bench depth is a crucial aspect of any strategy, but even more important is draft depth. Understanding where and who to take at different points of the draft depending on who will be available when is the only way to get the most out of every position on your roster.

This year, the draft seems to offer up substantial depth at the quarterback position, plenty of potential at the running-back position and a vast amount of uncertainty at the tight end position. That leaves just the wide receiver position, where a seemingly unanimous affirmation of the massive depth has many owners adopting a relaxed strategy. That is a very smart strategy, but it's still not a strategy that comes without risk.

Drafting wide receivers this season is like looking into a barrell of apples. If there are just two apples, one shiny and clean while the other is bruised and rotting, it's easy to find the one you want. If there are 100 apples with less obvious distinctions between each one, you're more likely to bite into something rotten. If you have Calvin Johnson and Kevin Ogletree to choose from, it's a simple choice, if you have Miles Austin, Jeremy Maclin and Stevie Johnson, much more work is required.

Only a select few of the elite receivers in the league come without question marks. Those receivers control their own production because of their ability to create their own production. They don't rely on their supporting casts to create opportunities for them and aren't at risk of collapsing if one piece of their game is lost. Every other receiver has those aspects to overcome. Will Miles Austin receive fewer targets with the emergence of Dez Bryant and the rookie additions? Will Steve Johnson produce in Buffalo with EJ Manuel or Kevin Kolb at quarterback? Will Jeremy Maclin fit in Chip Kelly's offense and how will he fair with whatever quarterback starts in Philadelphia?

Finding the receiver whose question marks feel less problematic is the key.

A receiver in that group who has plenty of question marks is Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Wide Receiver Mike Williams. Williams had a fine season last year. He finished the 2012 season 21st in receiving yards, 40th in receptions and tied for 11th in touchdowns. For a receiver who was supplanted as first-choice by the arrival of Vincent Jackson in free agency, he certainly played like a first-choice receiver in fantasy. In standard scoring leagues, Williams finished 18th amongst receivers(ESPN) after being the 46th receiver taken on average(MFL).

Williams should be a no-brainer this season. He seriously outperformed his ADP and there hasn't been any off-season incident for he or the Buccaneers that should take away from his production. However, hesitant owners should be forgiven for being wary of his ADP this season, because he proved to be a bust when his ADP was 15th amongst wide receivers(MFL) entering the 2011 season.

That was Williams' second season, a season when his average per reception fell and his touchdown numbers plummeted. Playing on a Buccaneers' offense that had no other receiving threats, Williams dealt with the opposition's best cover cornerback more often than not and the defense could flip coverage his way on a regular basis. Because he is/was such an all-around player, he was still able to get free for receptions, but couldn't make the same big plays down the field.

Consistency is Williams' biggest question mark. Can he produce for a second consecutive season? The answer is a resounding yes.

In order to understand Williams, you must understand his situation and his skill-set.

COVERAGE ANALYSIS

If you are familiar with the defensive back analysis of Pre Snap Reads, then you will already have an idea of how this process works. It is similar, but not exactly the same.

Every single snap of Wiliiams' 2012 season was put under this analysis:

  • What coverage did the defense play against him? Zone or Man?
  • If Man, who was the defender responsible for him?
  • What route did he run?
  • What was the depth of that route? Short (1-4), Intermediate (5-9), Deep (10+).
  • Did he gain enough separation on the route to 'beat' the defender?

Although every play was watched, not every play qualified. Any plays where the defense was in Prevent were not considered. Any plays that didn't see Williams run through a full route were not considered. This means that screens, no matter what role he played, and quicker passes were not included.

Weekly Breakdown:

Week 1: Carolina Panthers

  • Qualifying Plays: 20
  • Successful Routes: 9
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Josh Norman, Chris Gamble.
  • Success v. Zone: 0/5
  • Success v. Man: 9/15

The Panthers played very soft coverage for much of the game, but when they sent a heavy blitz at Josh Freeman in the redzone, Williams was able to come free for a touchdown. On the play, Freeman looked off the safety by using Vincent Jackson's threat in single coverage. This created huge space over the middle of the field for Wiliams to run into.

Week 2: New York Giants

  • Qualifying Plays: 20
  • Successful Routes: 9
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Corey Webster, Jayron Hosley, Michael Coe, Justin Tryon.
  • Success v. Zone: 2/6
  • Success v. Man: 7/14

Against the Giants, Williams showed off a play that he consistently made throughout the regular season last year. A play that is very, very difficult for defensive backs to stop and a play that doesn't put pressure on his quarterback to make a perfect throw. In other words, a play that doesn't come with question marks of dependance or who is most responsible for the production.

Here Williams is lined up to left of the formation. Justin Tryon, a reserve defensive back, is lined up over him with no deep safety to that side of the field. The safety to that side of the field has been pulled up into the box because of the presence of Doug Martin. Along with Martin's presence in the backfield, Vincent Jackson's presence in the slot to the other side of the field means that the deepest safety will stay to the other side of the field.

This is an aspect of the Buccaneers' offense that isn't going anywhere. The combination of their two most prominent weapons pulls the defense in different directions. They have to sacrifice something in specific situations. In those situations, they just hope that the complementary pieces on offense can't punish them. Of course, the complementary piece on this offense is Williams.

Freeman is afforded time in the pocket, but Williams is covered deep while there are defenders in position to make plays on his two underneath options. As a result, the quarterback holds onto the ball for moment more, before ultimately deciding to heave it down the sideline towards Williams. For most quarterbacks, this would be a terrible throw because the ball ultimately lands in a spot where the defensive back has position to make an interception. However, this is where Williams' talent turns the play around.

As he so often does, Williams has located the ball in flight very early on. As the ball falls from the sky in such a way that doesn't really benefit the receiver, he is already working towards catching it at it's highest point. Crucially, WIlliams is already leaving his feet to leap into the air, while his hands are raised much higher than Tryon's. Tryon's feet are on the floor and Williams is above him while he waits for the football to fall further than it will ultimately go.

Even though Williams doesn't make a clean catch on this occasion, he has met the ball at such a point that the defensive back cannot disrupt him and he is able to coral it for the 41 yard touchdown.

If you go back to when Freeman released the football, it's clear that Williams hasn't beaten the defensive back. It's also clear that Freeman hasn't thrown a perfectly accurate pass to take the defensive back out of the play, he has simply put the ball up there for Williams to go and win it. Now, when Williams was the first option for Freeman and playing on an offense with no other receiving threats, these opportunities wouldn't have come about.

Doug Martin drew the first safety forward, Vincent Jackson drew the other safety to his side of the field, while allowing Williams to go against a defensive back with lesser ball-skills. Williams is beating up on the worse defensive backs and benefiting from preferencial treatment from the defense, but he should continue to do that so long as Jackson is healthy and the Buccaneers don't suddenly start playing secondaries of the caliber of the Seattle Seahawks every week.

Week 3: Dallas Cowboys

  • Qualifying Plays: 24
  • Successful Routes: 12
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Mike Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Lequan Lewis.
  • Success v. Zone: 6/9
  • Success v. Man: 6/15

The Cowboys may not be the Seahawks, but Morris Claiborne was a first round pick who played to his reputation as a rookie last year. Claiborne gave Williams major issues. He couldn't separate from him deep down the field. However, even though he was struggling to make that big play, he was still routinely beating the lesser defensive backs who tried to cover him and finding soft spots in the Cowboys' zones.

Williams did drop two passes in this game, his first two of the season according to Pro Football Focus, but he does have very consistent hands. Williams dropped seven passes last season, nine the year before and 11 as a rookie. That total of 27 may seem high for 361 targets, but it's not when you consider how he catches the football.

Some of his drops are plays that he should be making, easy receptions underneath when uncovered. However, he makes those drops because he always looks to catch the ball with his hands rather than let it into his body. A case can be made that he should let the ball into his body on those occasions, but catching the ball with his hands all the time is what allows him to consistently make circus catches over defensive backs and deep down the sideline.

Williams' drops sacrifice short gains for big plays.

Week 4: Washington Redskins

  • Qualifying Plays: 27
  • Successful Routes: 12
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall, David Jones, Richard Crawford.
  • Success v. Zone: 4/10
  • Success v. Man: 8/17

Having shown off his ability to make spectacular catches in the previous game, Williams wasted no time carrying out act two a week later. However, it wasn't his receiving ability that stood out in this game. He did catch four passes for over 100 yards, but there was one 65 yard reception that was indicative of what he could do with the ball in his hands.

Williams is lined up to the bottom of the screen against Josh Wilson. Wilson is in press coverage, but the Redskins are blitzing from the other side of the field, meaning that they rotate their safeties away from the matchup.

Because of his superior athleticism, Williams is able to easily run past Wilson's outside shoulder to come free down the sideline. A perfect pass from Freeman allows him to gain an easy 30 yards or so, but it also allows him to catch the ball in stride and look to carry it even further down the field.

On this occasion Williams was caught, but it was a sign of greater things to come throughout the season.

Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs

  • Qualifying Plays: 24
  • Successful Routes: 8
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Stanford Routt, Brandon Flowers, Javier Arenas.
  • Success v. Zone: 3/9
  • Success v. Man: 5/15

Because the Buccaneers knew that Flowers wouldn't leave the left cornerback spot, Williams spent a large portion of his snaps on his side of the field so that they could use Vincent Jackson to create advantages elsewhere. He wasn't thrown out of the gameplan however. Even against one of the very best cornerbacks in the NFL, Williams was able to high-point the ball over him for a 36 yard gain in the second quarter.

Of course, that play came a quarter after he had done the same thing to Stanford Routt, before sprinting past Kendrick Lewis for a 62 yard touchdown reception. Williams' consistency in attacking the football is something that has permeated throughout his career. With his athleticism to get down the field and make plays with the ball in his hands, he should be one of the most explosive players in the league over the coming years.

Week 7: New Orleans Saints

  • Qualifying Plays: 30
  • Successful Routes: 12
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Patrick Robinson, Jabari Greer.
  • Success v. Zone: 5/10
  • Success v. Man: 7/20

Curiously, the Saints' cornerbacks performed well against the Buccaneers on both occasions. A bit of an oddity considering their performances throughout the season.

Week 8: Minnesota Vikings

  • Qualifying Plays: 24
  • Successful Routes: 10
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Josh Robinson, Antoine Winfield, AJ Jefferson.
  • Success v. Zone: 2/7
  • Success v. Man: 8/17

Josh Robinson spent most of the game on Williams and he did well for the most part. However, Williams was still able to finish the game with six receptions and over 60 yards. That statline would have been considered a success for the Vikings, but Williams caught another outstanding pass in the back of the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Week 9: Oakland Raiders

  • Qualifying Plays: 25
  • Successful Routes: 16
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Patrick Lee, Joselio Hanson, Michael Huff.
  • Success v. Zone: 8/12
  • Success v. Man: 8/13

With Huff, a natural safety, as the Raiders' top cornerback, it's no surprise that Williams had his way with the secondary in Oakland. Again, his statistical prowess was limited overall, but his fantasy worth was extended by one massive reception and another touchdown. Just like he did the week before, he caught a touchdown pass on a goalline play. This time it was a less spectacular reception, but included a very impressive out route to get free of Huff's coverage.

Although his touchdown was easy, Williams brought his team to the goalline with one of the more difficult plays a receiver can make.

Huff and Williams were in single coverage against each other. Huff actually played the route perfectly, a 10 yard curl that would have given the offense enough for a first down. However, when the defensive back attacked the football, it was out of his reach. He misread the flight of the ball and allwed it to escape passed him. Williams didn't make the same mistake, as he watched it go passed Huff's extended reach before snatching it comfortably out of the air with his palms.

From there, he turned down the sideline before jinking infield passed the incoming Tyvon Branch and using his acceleration to complete a 37 yard gain.

This play is a great example of why Williams' catch radius is vital for his fantasy value. Even though Williams isn't a first choice receiver on his own offense, he doesn't need to be because the value of his targets is maximised with his playing style. By going against the supposedly lesser cornerbacks on the field, Williams already has an advantage, but his catch radius makes him much more likely to come away with the reception than most good receivers in the league.

When that is combined with his fluid athleticism and ability to make defenders miss in space, the potential for big plays will mean that he can consistently turn a poor fantasy performance into a good one on just one play. There are many other receivers in the league who will often come away with big plays in the way Williams does, but those receivers are either too pricy in drafts and auctions or don't have the same all-around game.

Without that all-around game, they lose receptions and become less consistent because they are easier to defend.

Week 10: San Diego Chargers

  • Qualifying Plays: 17
  • Successful Routes: 11
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Antoine Cason, Quintin Jammer
  • Success v. Zone: 6/8
  • Success v. Man: 5/9

Williams was consistently open, but Freeman rarely looked his way, only targeting him four times throughout the whole game.

Week 11: Carolina Panthers

  • Qualifying Plays: 33
  • Successful Routes: 10
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Josh Norman, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Thomas.
  • Success v. Zone: 4/13
  • Success v. Man: 6/20

This was Williams' second least productive game of the season. A combination of poor quarterback play and an outstanding performance from Panthers' cornerback Josh Norman made him a very frustrated receiver.

Week 12: Atlanta Falcons

  • Qualifying Plays: 26
  • Successful Routes: 9
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson.
  • Success v. Zone: 5/9
  • Success v. Man: 4/17

The greatest fear when drafting Williams is that defenses figure out how to stop the rest of the Buccaneers' offense. Considering the level of talent surrounding the quarterback in Tampa however, that is an incredibly difficult task to execute even if you can design a blueprint that will work.

Mike Smith and Mike Nolan had the knowledge and talent to contain the Buccaneers. They forced Doug Martin to grind out a 2.4 average per carry, while Robinson and Samuel forced the football into the hands of Dallas Clark and Tiquan Underwood too often. Very few teams in the league have the same level of talent running through their defense as the Falcons did last year. Even the Falcons themselves have had to rebuild the unit somewhat after losing key pieces during the off-season.

Week 13: Denver Broncos

  • Qualifying Plays: 32
  • Successful Routes: 14
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Champ Bailey.
  • Success v. Zone: 4/7
  • Success v. Man: 10/25

Although he appeared to break out of his miniature slump against the Broncos, most of his yardage came late in the fourth quarter along with another goalline touchdown reception. It may have been less valuable to the Buccaneers that his production came essentially in garbage time, but his ability to rack up 47 yards and a touchdown on one drive speaks to his explosion at the very least.

When the defense was trying to prevent him from getting in behind, he was still able to make two sideline receptions. Garbage time statistics are looked down upon, but it's more difficult for receivers to get deep in those situations.

Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles

  • Qualifying Plays: 26
  • Successful Routes: 11
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin.
  • Success v. Zone: 7/13
  • Success v. Man: 4/13

Another goalline touchdown, this time over an outstretched Nnamdi Asomugha, was the only real highlight of this game for Williams. The Eagles consistently changed their coverages throughout the game, so Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had the most snaps against him in man coverage with just seven. Rodgers-Cromartie played very well on the day, as he had the speed to stick with Williams and the aggressive ball-skills to prevent him from making receptions in tight areas.

Week 15: New Orleans Saints

  • Qualifying Plays: 38
  • Successful Routes: 18
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Patrick Robinson, Jabari Greer, Elbert Mack.
  • Success v. Zone: 9/19
  • Success v. Man: 9/19

Having struggled against the Saints' cornerback duo earlier on in the year, Williams looked a lot better in this matchup. The statistics didn't come, but he was consistently open and in position to make big plays if the ball had come his way. There was one play that was arguably Williams most impressive play of the season.

This isn't a highlight-reel play, but it is a play that shows Williams' understanding of how to play his position. Something that is vital for consistency and sustaining production over weeks and years. Patrick Robinson actually plays very good coverage here, but the route is so precise that he has no chance of making a play on the ball.

Williams is lined up to the top of the screen as the Buccaneers come out in a balanced formation that keeps the Saints' linebackers tight to the offensive line.

At the snap, Williams takes a hard step towards Robinson's inside shoulder. Williams understands that there is enough space there for Robinson to bight on a potential slant route, which pulls the defender inside. That not only puts Robinson out of position, but it also creates more space between the defensive back and the sideline so the throw for Freeman will be easier. As Robinson tries to recover position, he is forced to turn his head away from the quarterback, losing sight of any pass that would come their way.

The ball does eventually come Williams' way and Robinson doesn't look to be too far out of position on the broadcast, but the replay shows that he never had a chance of preventing the reception.

Week 16: St. Louis Rams

  • Qualifying Plays: 44
  • Successful Routes: 24
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson
  • Success v. Zone: 4/15
  • Success v. Man: 20/29

Although Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson both played Williams very well, the Rams ran primarily a zone defense all throughout last season so their opportunities to match up were limited. When the Rams did play their zone defense, Williams was able to shred it on his way to 132 yards and a touchdown.

Week 17: Atlanta Falcons

  • Qualifying Plays: 25
  • Successful Routes: 12
  • Defensive Backs Faced: Robert McClain, Asante Samuel, Dominique Franks, Chris Hope.
  • Success v. Zone: 5/13
  • Success v. Man: 7/12

When the two sides first met, Williams couldn't get the better of the two defensive backs covering him. During their second meeting, he was able to expose the Falcons' lesser backs who filled in for Dunta Robinson. He also beat Asante Samuel for a touchdown after an outstanding post route.

Season Results

  • Qualifying Plays: 434
  • Successful Routes: 197
  • Success Rate: 45.4%

The above figure is an accurate reflection of when Williams created space between he and his defender, but it is not an accurate reflection of how often he is open. Because of his catch radius and exceptional hands, Williams is often open even when tightly covered by a defensive back. There is no way of tracking those plays, because the ball has to be thrown in his direction to see who comes out on top. However, it must be noted that Williams more often than not got the better of the defensive back when those situations arose during last season.

It should also be noted that a monumental 337 of Williams' routes went at least 10 yards downfield. That is a number that is consistent with the vertical passing attack employed by the Buccaneers.

INDIVIDUAL MATCHUPS

Rank Cornerback Successful Routes Failed Routes Success Rate Short (1-4) Intermediate (5-9) Deep (10+)
1. Michael Huff 5 1 83% 1/1 0/0 4/5
2. Mike Jenkins 4 1 80% 1/1 1/1 2/3
3. Nnamdi Asomugha 3 1 75% 0/0 1/1 2/3
4. Stanford Routt 3 1 75% 0/0 0/0 3/4
5. Josh Wilson 7 4 64% 0/0 0/0 7/11
6. Robert McClain 3 2 60% 0/0 1/1 2/4
7. Antoine Cason 3 2 60% 0/1 1/1 2/3
8. Josh Thomas 4 3 57% 0/0 1/1 3/6
9. Chris Harris 6 6 50% 1/1 1/1 4/10
10. Josh Robinson 5 5 50% 0/0 1/1 4/9
11. Chris Gamble 3 3 50% 0/0 1/1 2/5
12. Patrick Lee 3 3 50% 0/0 1/1 2/5
13. Quintin Jammer 2 2 50% 0/0 1/2 1/2
14 Patrick Robinson 10 14 42% 0/0 2/4 8/20
15. Tony Carter 4 6 40% 0/0 1/1 3/9
16. Jayron Hosley 2 3 40% 0/0 1/1 1/4
17. Josh Norman 7 12 37% 0/0 2/5 5/14
18. Jabari Greer 5 9 36% 0/0 2/4 3/10
19. Asante Samuel 5 10 33% 1/1 2/2 2/12
20. Corey Webster 2 4 33% 0/0 0/1 2/5
21. Trumaine Johnson 2 5 29% 0/0 0/1 2/6
22. Janoris Jenkins 2 6 25% 0/0 0/0 2/8
23. Brandon Flowers 2 7 22% 0/0 0/2 2/7
24. Dunta Robinson 2 7 22% 0/0 0/2 2/7
25. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie 1 6 14% 0/1 0/0 1/6
26. Morris Claiborne 1 7 13% 0/1 1/1 0/6

Those with less than four snaps in coverage against Williams were not included.

Projecting forward to the 2013 season, there are only really four games where the Buccaneers won't feel very confident in Williams' ability to repeatedly beat the second starting cornerabck. Notably for fantasy owners, one of those games is against the St. Louis Rams in Week 16.

There are a number of different directions to go in this year at the wide receiver position. With an ADP of 90 overall and 36 in terms of position, according to the FootballGuys ADP lists, Mike Williams is a direciton that you should be happy to go in.


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