Faceoff: Ricky Williams

August 4th

Will Grant: Ricky Williams took advantage of a banged up Ronnie Brown to have a re-breakout season, posting impressive stats including almost 1400 yards from scrimmage and 13 TDS. Even during the first nine games of the season when he shared the backfield with Brown, Williams still posted six games with more than ten fantasy points.

A big part of why Williams hit such a high mark last season was the fact that he had 13 TDS. We all know that TDs are a hard thing to predict for a RB, especially one that is sharing the backfield. However, a closer look shows that even when Williams shared the backfield with Ronnie Brown, he still posted seven TDS. They key here is the short yardage TDS: Brown had six TDS from four yards or less and 1 passing TD on the goal line in his 10 games and Williams has seven for the season. When the Dolphins get down near the goal line, they like to pound it in. While you can't expect another double digit TD season from Williams, it's clear that he's going to get plenty of chances to reach the end zone again this year.

Ronnie Brown is healthy again, but given his injury history, you can expect that he's going to miss some time. When Brown was in the backfield, Williams averaged just fewer than 14 touches per game. When Brown was out, he averaged more than 21. While these aren't stats that would make you draft Williams in the second round, it's still a consistent performance for a guy who you can land with a mid-sixth round pick.

Another big concern from fantasy owners is Ricky's age. He's 33 this season and the NFL doesn't have a history of RBS at 33 who perform at a high level. However, the one thing that Williams has going for him compared to guys like Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen is that Williams has a lot lower mileage than your 'typical' 33 year old RB. Allen had played in 145 games, had 115 starts and 2536 touches when by the time he was 33. Emmitt Smith? 185 games, 183 starts and 4268 touches. Williams has appeared in just 115 games with just 85 starts and has only 2474 touches. Even if you add Even if you add in the CFL stats that Williams had in 2006 - 11 games with 128 touches, he's still pretty 'young' for a 33 year old back. As ironic as it might seem, Ricky's drug issues might actually have prolonged his career.

On a final note, it's not as if you're going to spend a third round pick on Williams and draft him as your second RB. You're really taking him as your bye week filler or flex position type of pick. With that type of expectation, you're looking for a consistent player who can give you some solid upside. Williams is exactly that guy. He probably won't post another top-10 season like last year, but you have to like the top 15 potential of a guy who you can land in the sixth round.

Sigmund Bloom: Ricky Williams finished the season as a top 10 RB in every format, and he seems like a value at his current ADP of RB27 and 61 overall. The problem is that his numbers last year were based on two things:

  1. A torrid TD scoring rate of 7 in 8 games before Ronnie Brown went down
  2. A season-ending lis franc injury to Brown that made Williams the starter

We all know that TDs are one of the most volatile metrics in fantasy football, so we can't expect 1) to be reproduced, and even though Ronnie Brown has landed on IR two of the three seasons, we can't draft Williams as if we are assured of that happening again.

Realistic expectations for Williams productivity are more in line with his 2008numbers (878 total yards and 5 TDs) when he was RB38.

Most of Williams upside is injury upside, upside that every fantasy RB has. Ladainian Tomlinson might be a top 10 back if Shonn Greene goes down. Thomas Jones if Jamaal Charles goes down. Willis McGahee if Ray Rice goes down. All these backs are being drafted outside of the top 100, and I would argue that they are his peers, not players like Ahmad Bradshaw, Donald Brown, and Montario Hardesty, who have upside even if their backfield mates stay healthy because they are young and still on the upslope of their career and productivity curves.

Assume that Williams will continue to get almost half of the Dolphins rushing TDs instead of the 22% he got in 2008. Discount the risk that the Dolphins drop a bit from their usually high rush TD totals because of the addition of a real #1 WR who can do damage in the red zone in Brandon Marshall. Even if the Dolphins tendencies in the red zone and Williams role stays the same, there is another risk that could seriously limit Williams upside, and that is his ripe old age (for an RB) of 33. Williams seems to have done what Ponce de Leon could not - find the fountain of youth of Florida - that is, until the Dolphins asked him to become a feature back again.

Williams came out of the gate strong as a starter, but soon faded, fumbling four times in a two-game span in December, and then grinding to a halt with only 66 yards on the ground and no TDs in the final two games of the season - when the Dolphins were making a push for the playoffs. There is a chance that Williams was "used up" in that seven game stretch as the lead back, and it certainly looked that way in week 16 and 17. Any expectation that Williams performs up to his ADP has to include an assumption that age won't catch up to him, and the history of 33-year old running backs indicates that it is not a safe assumption. For Williams to finish in the top 30 RBs and justify his ADP, he'll need about 140 fantasy points based on 2009's numbers. Only 12 times has that happened in NFL history, and four of those belong to Marcus Allen. In the last 25 years, the feat has been accomplished by two other backs, Ottis Anderson and Emmitt Smith. It is arguable that Williams is on the Anderson level for sure, and he has had his Smith/Allen moments, but it is clear that age is another obstacle Williams will have to overcome.

Williams does have low mileage for his age, but the second part of his career has a somewhat suspect injury history to go with it, including one CFL season ended almost immediately by a broken arm, and his triumphant return to the NFL ended in its first game by a torn pec in 2007. While his low mileage may have extended the time that he remained a viable back, it doesn't seem to have made him more durable in the second half of his career, or more capable of handling a full workload.

Williams is an excellent "in case of emergency" back, and maybe even a viable flex in start 3 WR PPR leagues. His week-to-week upside is still going to be capped at 60-80 total yards and a TD without an injury to Ronnie Brown. He is likely to be overdrafted based on last year's numbers and there are similar players like Cadillac Williams and Fred Jackson that are just as safe available later in most drafts, and there are also upside plays C.J. Spiller, Michael Bush, Donald Brown, and Ahmad Bradshaw with lower ADPs.