Spotlight: Ricky Williams

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 9th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Run Ricky Run!

Let's be honest, you didn't see that coming. On what planet does a 32-year old backup RB end the season as the 7th best fantasy RB? The same running back who was out of football three years before and had only come back to the game after a walkabout and near bankruptcy. Ricky Williams was not supposed to have a 1,385 yards (from scrimmage), 13 touchdown season in him at this point.

But to quote the immortal Herman Edwards, "that's why we play the game." If you're healthy and on an NFL roster, you have the opportunity to make a difference. Williams personified that last year and he did so in two distinctly different roles. At the start of the season, Williams shared the spotlight with Ronnie Brown, particularly when Brown quarterbacked the Wildcat formation. Then when Ronnie Brown got hurt, Williams became the work horse back in a more conventional set. In both roles, Williams enjoyed success:

Weeks Rush Yards YPR RuTDs Recs RecYds YPC RecTD
1-9 11.7 62.0 5.3 0.7 2.0 21.4 10.7 0.1
10-16 19.4 80.4 4.1 0.7 2.4 10.1 4.2 0.1

As you can see, Williams was a terrific complementary option while Brown was in the lineup. He only carried the ball 11 times per game, but scored at a healthy clip and averaged more than 5 yards per rush. Once he became the lead back, his workload increased dramatically, but it came at the expense of his yards per rush. To better illustrate the difference, here is what his per game averages would look like over a 16-game schedule:

Weeks Rush Yards YPR RuTDs Recs RecYds YPC RecTD
1-9 187 992 5.3 10.7 32 343 10.7 1.8
10-16 311 1,287 4.1 11.4 39 162 4.2 2.3

How different will the Dolphins offense look this year?
Ronnie Brown is healthy again (we've heard that before), and as long as he keeps going full bore in training camp we have no choice but to accept that he'll be the focal point of the ground game. The offense has a new field leader, as Chad Henne enters this camp as the starter for the first time. And then there's the matter of Brandon "100 catches in my sleep" Marshall. The Dolphins added Marshall to give Henne a battle-tested Pro Bowl caliber receiver. Marshall is coming off back-to-back-to-back 100-catch seasons and will be asked to move the chains, stretch the field, and score in the red zone.

With Henne maturing, Marshall on the roster, and Ronnie Brown healthy [at least to start the season], it's difficult to model how Williams could maintain last year's pace. But if Ronnie Brown got hurt AGAIN, Williams would be in line for 18-20 touches per game. I know a few Dolphins diehards are screaming at their computers because they think Lex Hilliard would split carries with Williams in the event of a Ronnie Brown injury, but I'm not buying that until I see it on the field.

The Dolphins offense was more balanced (in terms of attempts) than people realize. Miami ran the ball 509 times (3rd in the NFL), and threw the ball 545 times (14th). This season you can expect the Fins to strive for a similar mix. The addition of Brandon Marshall isn't meant to change the run/pass balance, it's meant to make the passing game more productive with the attempts it already has. Let's say Ronnie Brown stays healthy, how many carries would you allocate to him? 250? 300? I can't fathom Brown with 300 carries in a season, so let's say 250 for the sake of this discussion. That leaves roughly 125-175 carries for the other running backs. Ricky will get 10-12 carries per game if things go according to plan.

Positives

  • Williams was the 7th best fantasy RB last year and is one Ronnie Brown injury away from 18-20 touches per game
  • The Dolphins are going to run the ball with abandon this year, which means Williams can still get 150ish carries and 6-8 TDs as a backup
  • Chad Henne is maturing and WR Brandon Marshall will keep defenses honest; the RBs should have more room to run

Negatives

  • Williams tailed off at the end of the year and it's unclear whether the Dolphins view him as a full-time back in 2010, regardless of Brown's healthy
  • Brandon Marshall is going to command a lot of offensive targets, and will take away from the RBs red zone opportunities
  • Ronnie Brown is healthy and looks good in camp

Final thoughts

The Dolphins caught lightning in a bottle last year and I'm not sure whether they should praise Williams' holistic approach to life or his mastery of yoga or simply that he has always been a ridiculously talented running back when his head is on straight. Either way, Williams was a life saver last year coming out of obscurity to deliver a Top 7 fantasy finish. This year may be more of the same IF Ronnie Brown gets hurt again. But more likely Williams returns to the key backup role he was so well suited for in 2008 and the first half of 2009.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Todem said:

Ricky showed his age last season after becoming the main back when Brown went down. He broke down towards the end of the season and was not nearly as effective than when he shared the load with Ronnie.

Anyone who actually watches the games and watched every snap for Ricky (I did) noticed this and it was obvious. If your going to pin it on what teams he played etc etc...you did not watch the games nor noticed Ricky being obviously slower towards the later half of the season.

Ricky is a complementary back this year ( and what he is there for period) as long as Brown can play all year (which has happened only once thus far). The Dolphins don't want Ricky to carry the load again if they can help it. If Ronnie goes down yet again look for Lex Hilliard to have a more substantial role this time around.

sholditch said:

With Brown they ran the Wildcat with Ricky as the swing back. Meaning every time Ricky got the rock it was on a stretch play in a single-wing formation essentially. With Ronnie out of the lineup it went to a traditional I or shotgun. Thus the dropoff in ypc. This is why stats have to be coupled with film. One without the other presents a misleading picture, which is why we are all year. FBG analysts look at stats and film.

GoRaiders said:

I love reading about how folks think Ricky will be terrible this year. Keep bringing his ADP down, and his upside looking even brighter.

Currently at ADP around 30, RW's projections would need to fall around 10 carries per game and his Yards/Att down to 3.8 (170/650/6, 30/210/1). If you don't think he can find the zone 6 times on the ground (he had 6 through 10 games with Ronnie B), then of course an ADP of 30 is still too high. With Ronnie B in the lineup RW averaged 12 carries last year. Now if we give him 12 carries per game with a 4.2 avg, and a few more catches he jumps up in the upper teens (200/850/6, 35/280/1).

I definitely think maintaining 12 carries per game with a healthy Ronnie B in the lineup is feasible. He is 33, but his playing age is a few years younger based on the sabbatical he took. At an ADP of 30, Ricky has a nice upside, especially if Ronnie gets hurt for any period of time, and Ricky continues finding the end zone.


Ricky Williams projections

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Jason Wood1657105231601
Message board consensus1697175282171