The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Mike Williams
Editor’s Note: As outlined in the Path to WR1 Primer article, The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series will showcase WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top-15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. We are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total but merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.
Myself and the rest of the writing staff have been churning out great content all offseason. For more great Path to a WR1 Season articles, check out these features on D.J. Moore, Julian Edelman, Robby Anderson, and Sammy Watkins.
Heading into last season, Andy was vocal in his love for Mike Williams in the Chargers offense. In his article here on the site, 32 Shamelessly Bold Predictions for the 2018 Fantasy Football Season, he predicted Mike Williams would surprise all season and score 10 times…nailed it!
Mike Williams dominated the red zone for the Chargers, hauling in ten TD receptions, but in order to truly predict the outcomes for Williams in 2019, we need to start by breaking down his 2018 season in more detail first. Let’s recap Williams’ 2018 season, project what a WR1 season would look like based on the most important fantasy categories, and finally give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign in 2019.
Want all the Reception Perception info on Mike Williams? Buy the Ultimate Draft Kit to get data on all the rest of the top 50 WRs along with my Injury Report, highlighting all the necessary injury information you need to know going into 2019.
2018 Season Recap
Before getting into the 2018 season, let’s first start with a reminder that Mike Williams’ rookie season in 2017 started quite slowly. After being drafted with the 7th overall pick in the NFL Draft, Williams struggled throughout training camp due to a back injury, causing neurologic symptoms into his legs. He dealt with this off and on for the first half of the season, playing in just ten total games in 2017 and only starting in one. He caught 11 balls on 23 targets and scored the same number of times as you and me – zero. BUT, in 2018, things changed big time for Williams in what was essentially his first real NFL season coming into the year fully healthy and finding his way onto the field with consistency.
|Year||Targets||Target Share||Snap Percentage||Receptions||Yards||TD|
As you can see in the table above, there was a big time jump in his stat line across the board. With Hunter Henry out all season because of a torn ACL, Mike Williams was the go-to man around the goal line, hauling in ten TDs on his way to a WR23 finish in half PPR formats. It’s important to be clear when discussing the TDs, which made Williams as viable as he was in fantasy. He was very, very efficient on his 66 targets from 2018, with a TD rate of 23.2% on his 43 receptions. In other words, 23% of Williams’ receptions in 2018 went for a TD, which is absurdly high. The only other player who comes close in this category is Tyler Lockett, whose TD rate was 17.5%.
Williams was also dominant when it came to the contested catch in 2018. Per Matt Harmon‘s Reception Perception profile on Mike Williams, the former Clemson wideout posted a contested catch rate of 84.6% of these targets. In addition, he posted a solid 79.4% success rate against zone coverage. These two statistics show that Mike Williams excelled in both types of scenarios. He was productive against zone, and he was productive in contested catch situations despite struggling to separate against man coverage. However, Williams demonstrated what we all liked about him coming out of college – the ability to win jump balls and come down with tough catches. If he’s good against zone coverages and can win in jump ball situations, does he need to be good against press and man coverage?
The Path for 2019
The Path to a WR1 season in 2019 is simple for Mike Williams – build on his targets, receptions, and yards from 2018 while maintaining a similar (or even better) TD output. Let’s examine each of these categories in more detail to find out how possible it truly is that Mike Williams finishes as a top 12 WR in fantasy football.
Targets – Since targets started getting recorded as a stat in 1992, Mike Williams is just the second player ever to have a season of 10+ TDs on fewer than 70 targets (credit to Matt Okada, former writer for the Fantasy Footballers, for the stat). In order to continue to ascend as an elite fantasy WR, he’ll certainly need to gain volume in 2019 in the form of targets from Phillip Rivers. Last season when targeting Mike Williams, Rivers posted a 131.6 QB rating. You think Rivers will want to continue to target his big man on the outside? He certainly should! Certainly, not all of Tyrell Williams‘ 65 vacated targets from 2018 will go to Mike Williams, but if he gets about a third of these, he should be in line for 90-100 targets in 2019.
Receptions – The trend for Williams in his first two seasons in the NFL has been a good one when it comes to receptions. 11 in 2017 grew to 43 in 2018. Certainly, Williams should see another drastic increase in his reception total in 2019, but it may not be quite as impressive as his growth from year one to year two. Keenan Allen is still going to dominate the reception totals for this Chargers offense. Over the last two seasons, Keenan Allen has averaged 99.5 receptions, hauling in a total of 199 in 2017 and 2018. That shouldn’t change much in 2019. The running backs are also going to continue to be a constant in this passing attack. Combined, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler caught 89 balls in 2018, which would have ranked third in the NFL in terms of receptions at the RB position. Look for Williams to push for about 60-70 receptions in 2019.
(Air) Yards – You’ll notice there’s an extra word in this header. According to AirYards.com, Mike Williams averaged 14.6 yards for his aDOT (average depth of target). That’s just behind guys like Mike Evans, Robby Anderson, Kenny Stills, and John Brown. With how good Williams is when the ball is in the air and how good he is at making those tough catches, it’s certainly possible to expect Williams to take another step forward as the primary deep threat in this offense with Tyrell Williams now in Oakland. In terms of total air yards, Williams posted 964 air yards in 2018 and should certainly build on this number in 2019. Look for Williams to benefit from well over 1,000 air yards in 2019 and should push for 850 receiving yards at a minimum. Why do I give these numbers? In 2018, Mike Williams posted a RACR (receiver air yards conversion rate) of 69%. Tyrell Williams had 789 air yards in 2018. Let’s give Mike Williams about a third of those. If Mike Williams gets 1,227 air yards in 2019 with a similar RACR, he’d be right at 847 yards.
TDs – As discussed above, Mike Williams was a WR2 in fantasy because of his ability to find the end zone in 2018. With Hunter Henry back in the mix now more than a year removed from the torn ACL, it’s certainly possible to think that Williams’ TD production may come down in 2019. In Henry’s two healthy seasons on the field, he’s hauled in 12 career TDs, all while playing alongside Antonio Gates.
Certainly, Williams’ efficiency when it comes to TDs is going to decrease, but that shouldn’t truly be an issue. If Williams can build on his 12 end zone targets from 2018 (28th overall) to let’s say somewhere in the range of 18-20 end zone targets, there’s a very realistic shot he produces double digits scores once again in 2019.
WR1 Possibility for 2019: Moderate to Low (25-40%)
This percentage is based off the Fantasy Footballers writing staff and the prior data on Williams and the Chargers’ passing offense. The data from 2017 and 2018 seem to point to an increase in production for Mike Williams in 2019. He finished as the WR23 in fantasy football in 2018, so it seems fair to say his floor is probably somewhere around WR20 if we project more targets, yards, and receptions with about the same number of TDs as in 2018. For Williams to make that leap into the top-12 fantasy WRs, he’s going to have to produce even more in the TD department. If we keep his TD count static from 2018 and give him 10, along with the 65 receptions and 847 yards discussed above, he would have finished as the WR18 in fantasy football in 2018. Certainly, Williams will need more TD receptions if he wants to crack the top-12.
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.