Why Last Year Was Mike Williams' Fantasy Ceiling

A detailed look at Mike Williams and why last year's WR22 was probably his ceiling. 

Good Player With A Defined Ceiling

Mike Williams more than justified the Chargers investment in him with a breakout 2018. His performance was enough to let Los Angeles part ways with Tyrell Williams, guaranteeing Mike Williams a full-time starting role opposite Keenan Allen. The prospect of a full-time role and 750+ offensive snaps has fantasy owners projecting Williams for a move into the upper echelon. While that’s a possible outcome, it’s not the most likely one.

  • Williams finished WR22 last year, but that was due to an unsustainable 23% touchdown rate
  • Although Tyrell Williams is gone, Hunter Henry is back and will command a large target share
  • The Chargers only threw the ball 512 times and had one of their best seasons in the Rivers era
  • Receivers with 100 or fewer targets and 10% or less touchdown conversion rates struggle to crack the Top 30

Willams current ADP puts him toward the bottom of the WR2 tier (WR25, to be exact). While it’s tempting to expect Williams to improve on last year, and thus outperform his WR22 ranking, that would be a mistake. He can (and likely will) have more targets, catches, and yards, but the offsetting normalization of his touchdown total will more than cap his upside. If you’re targeting Williams as a solid WR3, then proceed. If you’re targeting him as a breakout with top-15 potential, you’re counting on too many statistically unlikely factors happening in the same season.


One Year Does Not A Career Make

Mike Williams is the poster boy for the fickle nature of fantasy drafting. In 2017, Williams was the first receiver taken in the NFL draft; the Chargers selected the former Clemson Tiger with the 7th overall pick. Things didn’t go well, as Williams only played ten games and caught 11 passes. His catch rate (48%) and yards-per-reception (8.6 yards) were abysmal, and it left many wondering if he would bust. To put William’s rookie season in context, here are all the rookie receivers (since 1992) with at least 20 targets, a sub-50% catch rate, and a sub-10 yard-per-reception average:

Table: All Rookie Receivers with 20+ Targets, <50% Catch Rate, and <10 Yards-Per-Reception

Receiver
Season
Age
Round
Pick
Team
Targets
Receptions
Ctc%
Yards
Y/R
TDs
Reggie Williams
2004
21
1
9
JAX
54
27
50.0%
268
9.93
1
Alex Van Dyke
1996
22
2
31
NYJ
43
17
39.5%
118
6.94
1
Syndric Steptoe
2008
24
7
234
CLE
41
19
46.3%
182
9.58
0
Cortez Hankton
2003
22
UDFA
JAX
41
17
41.5%
166
9.76
0
Ron Dugans
2000
23
3
66
CIN
38
14
36.8%
125
8.93
1
2012
23
5
168
OAK
33
16
48.5%
151
9.44
1
2015
23
5
175
HOU
32
14
43.8%
129
9.21
0
2012
22
4
121
HOU
28
10
35.7%
85
8.50
1
2017
22
4
117
LAR
24
11
45.8%
104
9.45
1
James Hardy
2008
23
2
41
BUF
24
9
37.5%
87
9.67
2
2017
23
1
7
LAC
23
11
47.8%
95
8.64
0
Dez White
2000
21
3
69
CHI
22
10
45.5%
87
8.70
1
Shaun McDonald
2003
22
4
106
STL
21
10
47.6%
62
6.20
0

You’ll note the other receivers on this list went on to have forgettable careers. Under that context, it’s not hard to understand why fantasy managers might have written off Williams. But it would’ve been a grave mistake in judgment.

Keeping the Faith Paid Off

Those who kept the faith were handsomely rewarded last year. Williams shook off the rookie travails and emerged as one of the league’s promising young play-makers in 2018:

  • 66 targets
  • 43 receptions
  • 664 yards
  • 15.4 yards per reception
  • 10 touchdowns
  • WR22 fantasy ranking

Impressive, but Beware of TD Dependence

Williams looked the part last year, but let’s not lose sight of the fact he caught ten touchdowns on 43 receptions; that equates to a touchdown rate of 23%. Touchdowns are the most volatile component of fantasy scoring and are also prone to regression.

To get a sense of what a “normal” touchdown rate would be for Williams, let’s take a look at other receivers who enjoyed a season of abnormally high touchdown-conversion.

Receivers with a 20% touchdown rate (1999-2017, Minimum 5 Touchdowns)

Rank
Receiver
Season
Exp
Recs
Yards
TDs
FanPts
TD%
TD%-RoC
1
2014
1
26
549
8
104.1
31%
7.6%
2
Randy Moss
2004
7
49
767
13
155.6
27%
15.6%
3
Reggie Williams
2007
4
38
629
10
123.7
26%
5.3%
4
Chris Henry
2006
2
36
605
9
114.5
25%
14.5%
5
2017
2
28
423
7
85.2
25%
7.6%
6
Randy Moss
2007
10
98
1493
23
287.3
23%
15.6%
7
2007
2
53
920
12
164.0
23%
10.0%
8
2015
9
44
739
10
139.9
23%
6.3%
9
2016
3
30
307
7
72.6
23%
8.2%
10
2011
4
68
1263
15
216.3
22%
10.5%
11
2012
6
64
784
14
162.4
22%
10.0%
12
2014
4
49
767
11
142.7
22%
11.1%
13
Javon Walker
2003
2
41
716
9
125.7
22%
9.7%
14
Az-Zahir Hakim
1999
2
36
677
8
120.1
22%
7.1%
15
2013
10
46
602
10
119.7
22%
5.0%
16
TimDwight
1999
2
32
669
7
117.7
22%
7.4%
17
2014
2
37
621
8
110.1
22%
6.2%
18
2006
2
27
453
6
82.9
22%
9.9%
19
2009
3
27
437
6
81.9
22%
4.5%
20
Darnerien McCants
2003
2
27
360
6
72.0
22%
6.5%
21
2010
4
72
1162
15
206.6
21%
6.2%
22
2010
2
42
775
9
131.5
21%
8.0%
23
2016
4
42
726
9
126.6
21%
10.6%
24
2017
4
39
593
8
107.3
21%
10.4%
25
Braylon Edwards
2007
3
80
1289
16
224.9
20%
8.6%
26
Laurent Robinson
2011
5
54
858
11
151.8
20%
3.5%
27
2013
2
51
712
10
137.7
20%
9.8%
28
2009
3
45
722
9
134.4
20%
13.5%
29
2012
12
41
573
8
106.7
20%
8.4%
Average
46
731
10
135.4
22.2%
8.4%

Over the last 20 years, 28 receivers had a season with at least a 20% touchdown conversion rate. Their average season was:

  • 46 catches
  • 731 yards
  • 10 touchdowns
  • 22.2% conversion rate

That’s eerily similar to Williams’ 2018 totals. Note that the average touchdown conversion rate for this cohort – for the rest of their careers – was 8.4%. In other words, don’t fall into the trap of thinking because Williams caught 10 touchdowns last year, he’s preternaturally disposed to tallying big touchdown totals in subsequent years. History tells us it’s a flawed assumption.

Won’t He See More Targets?

Williams may not convert as many catches into scores this year, but if he can improve in other ways, he can still be valuable. He only had 66 targets last year, which is a relatively low number for a top-25 fantasy receiver.

Reasons to expect more targets:

  1. Tyrell Williams – who had 64 targets last year – joined the Raiders
  2. Williams will be a full-time starter this season
  3. The Chargers only threw the ball 512 times, far below Philip Rivers’ average season
  4. Melvin Gordon III’s potential holdout skews the Chargers toward a higher pass/run ratio
  5. No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen has missed big chunks of time in prior seasons

Reasons to worry Williams won’t see more targets:

  1. Keenan Allen’s talent justifies an insanely high target share
  2. Tight end Hunter Henry is healthy and will be a mismatch against opposing linebackers
  3. The Chargers were among the AFC’s best teams last year (if it’s not broke, don’t fix it)
  4. The defense should be elite, allowing a more balanced game script

Conclusion – Expect more targets for Williams, but don’t expect him to exceed 100 targets without a significant injury to either Keenan Allen or Hunter Henry.

Sub-100 Target Receivers and their Fantasy Ceilings

Receivers with 100 or fewer targets rarely finish much higher than Mike Williams' WR22 rank last year. Over the last 20 years, here are the Top 25 fantasy seasons by a receiver with 100 or fewer targets.

Top 25 Fantasy Seasons for Receivers with 100 or Fewer Targets (1999-2018)

Rank
Receiver
Season
Team
Games
Targets
Recs
Yards
TDs
FanPts
TD%
FantRank
1
2011
GNB
16
96
68
1263
15
216.3
22.1%
2
2
2010
PIT
16
98
60
1257
10
185.7
16.7%
5
3
2007
GNB
13
84
53
920
12
164.0
22.6%
12
4
2012
GNB
16
98
64
784
14
162.4
21.9%
16
5
2015
BUF
13
96
60
1047
9
158.7
15.0%
16
6
2018
SEA
16
70
57
965
10
156.5
17.5%
11
7
Randy Moss
2004
MIN
13
86
49
767
13
154.7
26.5%
19
8
2014
WAS
15
95
56
1169
6
152.9
10.7%
17
9
Laurent Robinson
2011
DAL
14
80
54
858
11
151.8
20.4%
15
10
2010
NYG
16
93
60
944
9
148.4
15.0%
17
11
Bill Schroeder
2001
GNB
14
93
53
918
9
145.8
17.0%
20
12
2011
ATL
13
95
54
959
8
143.9
14.8%
17
13
2014
BAL
16
92
49
767
11
142.7
22.4%
19
14
2007
PIT
13
85
52
942
8
142.2
15.4%
18
15
2018
ATL
16
92
64
821
10
142.1
15.6%
18
16
2010
PHI
14
95
47
1056
6
141.6
12.8%
14
17
2007
ARI
12
99
71
853
9
139.3
12.7%
20
18
Bernard Berrian
2008
MIN
16
95
48
964
7
138.4
14.6%
18
19
Quincy Morgan
2002
CLE
16
97
56
964
7
138.4
12.5%
22
20
Lee Evans
2004
BUF
16
74
48
843
9
138.3
18.8%
24
21
2008
HOU
16
95
60
899
8
137.9
13.3%
20
22
Joey Galloway
2007
TAM
15
98
57
1014
6
137.4
10.5%
22
23
2015
GNB
16
99
50
890
8
137.0
16.0%
23
24
2015
CAR
15
97
44
739
10
133.9
22.7%
26
25
2017
PIT
14
79
58
917
7
133.7
12.1%
15
Average
91
56
941
9
149.8
16.7%
17

Only two receivers – Jordy Nelson and Mike Wallace – had top-10 seasons with 100 or fewer targets. Quite a few receivers managed to crack the top 20, much in the same way Williams almost did last year. But this data is flawed because every one of these receivers had a high touchdown conversion rate. It stands to reason the only way you’ll have a big fantasy season without a ton of targets, is to have an unusual number of touchdown catches.

But as we already established, outlier touchdown rates are doomed to regression. So what we should be looking at are the receivers who have 100 or fewer targets, and has an average touchdown conversion rate. We’ll peg that at 10% or lower for this discussion. Here are the ten best fantasy seasons by a receiver with 100 or fewer targets, and a touchdown rate of 10% or less.

Top 10 Fantasy Seasons For Receivers with 100 of Fewer Targets and 10% or Lower Touchdown Conversion (1999-2018)

Rank
Receiver
Season
Team
Games
Targets
Recs
Yards
TDs
FanPts
TD%
FantRank
1
2016
MIN
16
92
69
967
5
126.7
7.2%
27
2
Johnny Knox
2010
CHI
16
100
51
960
5
126
9.8%
24
3
2016
WAS
15
100
56
1005
4
124.5
7.1%
31
4
2016
CIN
10
100
66
964
4
120.4
6.1%
35
5
2018
PHI
13
92
65
843
6
120.3
9.2%
26
6
2014
NOR
16
100
59
902
5
120.2
8.5%
34
7
2013
SEA
16
99
64
898
5
119.8
7.8%
29
8
Derrick Mason
2000
TEN
16
89
63
895
5
119.5
7.9%
27
9
Deion Branch
2010
2TM
15
92
61
818
6
117.8
9.8%
29
10
2017
LAR
15
94
62
869
5
116.9
8.1%
27
Average
96
62
912
5
121.2
8.1%
29

As you can see, if a receiver doesn’t get more than 100 targets, and doesn’t convert an unusually high percentage into touchdowns, it’s hard to make a fantasy impact. Johnny Knox’s WR24 ranking is the best performance of that cohort in the last 20 years.

Stats and Projections

Season
Player Stats
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2017
10
0
0
0
23
11
95
0
0
2018
16
7
28
1
66
43
664
10
0
Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2019
David Dodds
16.0
6
35
0.2
58.0
829
6.0
0.5
2019
Bob Henry
15.5
5
25
0.3
60.0
880
9.0
0.0
2019
Jason Wood
16.0
3
15
0.0
60.0
850
6.0
0.0
2019
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
2
13
0.0
47.7
714
6.2
0.5

Final Thoughts

Mike Williams is a young, talented receiver. He has a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing to him and has a starting spot locked up for years to come. Williams proved last year he can use his size to body opposing defensive backs and win jump balls in tight spaces. There's plenty of reason to be excited about his future. But, winning fantasy leagues is all about finding value. At Williams' current ADP, he's being drafted fairly. Don't avoid him, but don't reach for him expecting further growth. It's quite likely Williams will have more targets, catches, and yards in 2019 -- but it's equally likely his touchdown total will come back to Earth. If things go according to plan in Los Angeles, Williams most likely finishes as a fantasy WR3. But he's worth drafting at ADP because the only thing keeping him from a top-20 finish is opportunity. If either Keenan Allen or Hunter Henry get hurt, the ceiling for Williams' targets gets lifted, and then all bets are off. Sometimes a player isn't being over-drafted or under-drafted, sometimes he's going at an ideal spot. That's the case with Willams. Last year's WR22 finish was probably a peak, but being a perennial top-30 receiver is hardly a bad career.


Other Viewpoints

The Fantasy Footballers Matthew Betz is a tad more optimistic about Williams' prospects:

"Mike Williams’ 2018 season was extremely efficient. However, his targets, receptions, and yards will all increase and with that increased volume, efficiency is going to drop, and that’s okay when it comes to projecting his 2019 season. Even if Williams doesn’t find the end zone 10 times in 2019, his yardage and receptions should help pad the stats, making him a solid WR2 with some WR1 upside for 2019."

PFF's Scott Barrett sees Williams as a prime touchdown regression candidate:

"More than any player we’ve mentioned thus far, Williams seems the most likely to come crashing down to earth. He scored 4.6 touchdowns above his expectation, which ranks as the 18th-largest positive differential this past decade. He ranked fifth in touchdowns (10) but just 19th in expected touchdowns (6.4), implying volume wasn’t nearly as good as his production implied. On top of that, he was far too reliant on touchdowns for fantasy points. In total, 33% of his fantasy points came on touchdowns, which ranked third-most among wide receivers, and he averaged just 41.5 receiving yards per game (55th)."


Twitter: @FBGWood

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