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Spotlight: Chris Wells

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 1st


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Whither the Cardinals - Chris Wells or Ryan Williams to headline during 2012?

Chris Wells enjoyed the most successful season of his three-year NFL career during 2011, posting 245/1,047/10 rushing with 16 targets for 10/52/0 receiving. It was the first time he's rushed for over 1,000 yards and also the first time he's scored double-digit TDs in a single NFL season. His previous high came in his rookie campaign, when he put up 176/793/7 rushing and 12/143/0 receiving (2009). His 2010 season was crippled by a series of nagging injuries, limiting him to 116/397/2 rushing with 5/74/0 receiving during his sophomore season. Even though he fought through similar concerns during 2011 and played solidly, most of the Footballguys staff is luke-warm on Wells' prospects for 2012, even though he'll be just 24 when the season starts. What is the problem here?

The worries stem from what Wells described as an arthroscopic right knee surgery Tuesday, January 24, 2012. Wells characterized the surgery as "as just a scope," and he said the procedure went as expected. However, six months and change after the surgery, the Cardinals placed Wells on the PUP list to open training camp. Six months is more than enough time to recover from a simple scope, so red flags are going up around Wells' condition for the 2012 season.

On July 30 Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt suggest that Wells might practice starting the first week of August. Wells could also see action in a game sometime before the end of the preseason, according to Whisenhunt. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement from the head coach here, friends.

Footballguys.com's own MD Jene Bramel has long suspected that Wells' knee procedure was more involved than a simple arthroscopic clean out of the knee - he posted some sobering analysis of Wells' situation on July 29, 2012 here: - it's well worth your time to read through the entire piece on the opening-of-training-camp PUP lists. Referring specifically to Wells, Bramel notes: "Wells may be activated from the PUP list next week and finish the season as a RB2 or better. But I don't like the progression of the facts in this case one bit. The early successes of Ryan Williams in camp are further cause for concern."

Speaking of Ryan Williams, he has been running the football in team drills early in training camp and reportedly bounced back up after taking a solid hit from Adrian Wilson on one play - Williams looks a lot further along in his ongoing rehabilitation from a 2011 season-ending patellar tendon tear than Wells is in his rehab right now. Williams tore his patella tendon and sustained meniscus cartilage damage on August 19, 2011, and was placed on IR for the 2011 season at that time and subsequently had the knee surgically repaired. It is worth noting that Williams was knocked out of the lineup before playing a regular-season down during his rookie campaign - for all intents and purposes, Williams is a rookie entering the 2012 training camp/preseason. But he is also further removed from his injury/surgery than Wells is as of August 1, 2012.

Coming out of the 2011 NFL draft, many observers felt that Williams was a more explosive, complete prospect than Wells, but it remains to be seen if Williams has recovered his top gear after the patella tendon surgery. Fantasy owners will be watching his progress during preseason games to guage how well Williams has recovered, and how well versed he is in executing the Cardinals' playbook.

The situation in Arizona is about as clear as mud as of early August, friends. Not only is there uncertainty surrounding the workshare between Wells and Williams, there is also an ongoing battle for starting quarterback between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton to settle in Arizona. The shape and capabilities of the entire offense are unknowns right now, outside of All-World wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It may be until the end of preseason that we get clarity on who will be where on the depth chart, and that adds substantial risk to drafting either Wells or Williams (or both, which looks like the best course of action for those investing in the Cardinals' running game).

Positives

  • The Cardinals averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry as a team last year (389/1,625/12 rushing as a team last year) - whoever wins the top job will have a good shot at 1,000+ yards rushing
  • The Cardinals' offense was 28th in the league last year in rushing attempts - there is plenty of room for more work to split between Wells and Williams if both are healthy come regular season
  • The Cardinals play in a retractable-roofed stadium, making ideal conditions for their home games routine even during the late months of the year

Negatives

  • In order to lock down the Cardinals' rushing attack, you'll likely have to expend two quality draft picks and land both Wells and Williams as a handcuff
  • Neither Wells or Williams is proven 100% healthy as of early August, and we won't have clarity on their health until much closer to/during the month of September
  • The depth chart at running back isn't settled and won't be until September, most likely - if you only manage to draft one of the two backs, you could end up with the "change of pace" guy

Final thoughts

The projections I've assigned the players at this time assumes a fairly even workshare - with Williams seeing more receptions and yardage, making him the superior PPR play, and also a better call in non-PPR leagues. However, these numbers are very preliminary and I will undoubtably tweak them significantly as we gain clarity on the roles for Wells and Williams this year (and the overall efficiency of the Cardinals' offense under whichever QB wins the starting job). Arizona is one of the most difficult teams to project this year due to the substantial uncertainty surrounding their offensive makeup on opening day 2012.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

bostonfred said:

The problem with beanie is the injury history. I get it. And he doesnt get a lot of catches - only ten total last year. But 393 yards and six tds in his first four games. That's five yards per rush. Or call it 518 total yards and 7 tds in his first six games, including the game he got injured and a game at baltimore. This guy can bring it when he's healthy. Yet people are hyping up kenny britt over his first two weeks, and putting beanie in an early grave because a second round pick with third down back skills coming off a season long knee injury looks alnost as good as he did last yea when he didn't have the starting job.

Is williams capable of taking over as the lead back? Sure. And beanie could get hurt again (of course, so could williams, who has missed sixteen games in his 16 game nfl career). So this is not a guy you want to spend a top 25 pick on. But when you start looking at the tier two running backs, trying to find a guy who can put up stud rb numbers at a discounted price, beanie is one of the first names you should look at.

The other nice thing with beanie is that fitzgerald may be great, but this team is going to have to use the running game to take pressure off ofwhichever qb they start. Even when beanie was playing poorly on a bum wheel late last year during their winning streak, he got 23, 27, 20, 15 and 15 carries (he also got 8 carries against san fran, and 14 against cinci in losses, while stephens-howling got 21 carries against seattle in week 17 with beanie on the bench). This team wants a lead back to run the ball and could easily give their lead back 300 carries (beanie had 245 carries in 14 games last year, and the lead back in the other two games got 17 and 21 carries, respectively).

The real issue with beanie, to me, is the risk that you lose him for some unknown amount of time. If that happens, you need another good back on your roster, and preferably one with some job security. I wouldn't pair beanie with, say, ridley, or jamaal charles, even though all of those guys have potential. I don't want to risk drafting three backs and ending up with none. But If I could get a stud rb early, or add beanie as part of a rbbc on a team with lots of talent elsewhere, id be thrilled to have beanie.

I know the rules of the thread are that I have to give projections, but it seems like guesswork with beanie due to the injury risk. I will assume a fully healthy year would be about 300 carries and 15 receptions for 1500 total yards and 14 tds, then discount it due to injury risk by about 20%

Shutout said:

Why are people so lazy as to throw out the "injury risk" on Beanie and speak as if he's on the sideline half the time.

In the three years he has been in the league, he has appeared in all but 4 games. granted, that's not the same as saying a guy carried the ball 25 times every game, but the perception that this guy is missing a lot of time is false.

Go look at the league and compile a list of the number of RBs who has missed 4 or fewer games in the last 3 years and I think you will be forced to reset your thinking on this.

And what exacerbates this particular discussion is that people are ready to assume that Williams can take this job away from Beanie because "as we know, Beanie is ALWAYS hurt", yet they are handing it to a guy that has not played one single game because HE WAS HURT. And, his injury isn't run of the mill. He had the type of injury that has long-term effects on key aspects of his ability.

And then people say "Well, he had no competition and still only did THIS". Yeah, Beanie doesn't have DWIL or Ben tate behind him, but the majority of backs around the league have similar splits in carries. Teams can only play who they have and the talent is not on the same level across every team, but its not unusual to see the lead guy have ~250 carries, and a backup or two combine for ~100. Usually, when a guy has no competition in the backfield, people use it as a positive but in Beanie's case, some people try to make it work against him.

I just don't get it. Last season, Beanie Wells was jsut as productive, FF-wise, as Bradshaw, JSTEW, and Mendenhall and he is super young. I don't know why people are so quick to try to bury him.

Once again, people have severely underrated beanie wells due to preconceived biases.

Catbird said:

I'm a Williams dynasty owner, and Wells as well. Both are huge injury risks. But looking at their skill sets, if they both are healthy, Williams has elite cutting and vision, and is a very good receiver. If you look closely, his style is not unlike a young Emmitt Smith with better hands, although I say style and don't mean to put Williams in that class of player - and he has the scary injury history, which included time lost to injuries in college as well as the terrible one he's trying to come back from now. Wells has better size and power and likely top end speed, and a big experience edge. He also has his own big injury issues and can't catch a cold. If both are healthy, Wells probably loses nearly all of the third down touches he had last year, so that alone is maybe 40-50 touches lost. If both are healthy, I think Beanie would likely get the majority of goalline touches and I don't have enough future sight to say how they split the rest - Williams in longer yardage downs and beanie in shorter? Split series? I can see a fairly even split, or how either one could earn the majority of carries. More likely though, carries will most often be decided largely by who is healthy.

I think Beanie's only chance of doing as well as last year is more debilitating injury problems for Williams. Similarly, Williams' best chance for being a fantasy starter this year is Beanie being hurt again. If healthy, long run, I think Williams has the more valuable skills to have on the field, and just as importantly, the mindset to play with the intensity and commitment that Beanie doesn't. But I own DWill and drafted Stewart on the same theory - that I would get a stud when the dust settled and one of them took over, and you know how that has turned out for me.

I would rather own Williams in dynasty than Wells because he has a higher top end potential (even if a greater injury concern). For re-draft, I want only one to be healthy.

Raiderfan32904 said:

This spotlight is a tough one. Both backs have injury concerns and I'll go out of my way not to disparage Beanie while heaping praise on Williams. I've been a big Ryan Williams fan going back to his days at Vatech. If Williams knee is sound, I think he overtakes Beanie and doesn't look back. Not going to predict that, but lets just say that's what I'm rooting for. Drafting either back will only be part of an upside down drafting strategy, for me.


Chris Wells projections

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Mark Wimer19080065250
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