The Kyren Williams Conundrum: Why the Rams RB Must Be an Outlier To Succeed

Rams RB Kyren Williams has elite RB1 upside, but history suggests he's one of the riskiest picks in fantasy drafts. How should fantasy managers proceed?

Los Angeles Rams RB Kyren Williams stamped his name as one of the greatest waiver wire pickups in fantasy football history last season.

While Williams was awesome for managers who picked him up, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should pay up for him in 2024. Let’s examine what history tells us about backs like Williams.

Can Kyren Williams Deliver on His ADP in 2024?

What is the Kyren Williams Conundrum? As every fantasy manager is well aware, Williams was pretty, pretty … pretty good last season. He averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game, finishing as the overall RB2.

Typically, when a running back posts a 20+ points per game season, he’s a surefire top pick at the position the following year. That is the case with Williams. He’s currently going off the board as the RB7, which will cost fantasy managers around a mid-second-round pick.

Therein lies the conundrum. Based on what Williams did last year, of course, he’s worth a second-round pick. Even if he regresses a decent amount, anything over 16 fantasy points per game would make him worth the investment.

The problem is Williams came out of nowhere. There were fantasy analysts out there mentioning him as someone to keep an eye on or throw a late-round pick at. But not one person can say they expected him to be an every-week fantasy starter, let alone the second-best running back in all of fantasy.

The conundrum is: Do we buy it?

Historical Analysis Strongly Points Toward Fading Guys Like Williams

I’ve now mentioned players “like Kyren Williams” multiple times. I’m sure you’re wondering what exactly that means. The archetype of running back we’re referring to are players who were waiver pickups that became top 24 picks at the RB position the following season.

As a disclaimer, in doing this historical analysis, there’s no way to actually know what percentage of leagues these running backs were drafted in. I am using a combination of my memory and historical ADP data to create our sample of backs that were waiver wire pickups.

I was able to find ADP data dating back to 2010. Our sample begins there.

First, let’s compile our list of running backs who went undrafted, were hot waiver wire pickups that same season, and then went roughly in the top five rounds of next year’s drafts. The year in parenthesis is the year after the running back was the hot waiver wire add.

  • Peyton Hillis (RB14, 2011)
  • Donald Brown (RB19, 2012)
  • Andre Ellington (RB11, 2014)
  • Zac Stacy (RB15, 2014)
  • C.J. Anderson (RB6, 2015)
  • Justin Forsett (RB10, 2015)
  • Latavius Murray (RB15, 2015)
  • Thomas Rawls (RB16, 2016)
  • Jeremy Langford (RB19, 2016)
  • Jordan Howard (RB9, 2017)
  • Ty Montgomery (RB16, 2017)
  • Alex Collins (RB17, 2018)
  • Kenyan Drake (RB18, 2018)
  • Jerick McKinnon (RB19, 2018)*
  • Damien Williams (RB13, 2019)
  • James Robinson (RB17, 2021)
  • Myles Gaskin (RB23, 2021)
  • Elijah Mitchell (RB21, 2022)

*Jerick McKinnon was excluded from this analysis because he tore his ACL in the preseason of the 2018 season.

That gives us 17 running backs. It’s not the largest sample size, but we’re talking about a very particular type of player.

For brevity’s sake, I am not going in-depth on each individual player. We will quickly discuss what each player did to warrant being a top waiver pickup and then mention how they performed the following year.

  • Hillis truly came out of nowhere in 2010 to average 18.4 fantasy points per game, finishing as the overall RB4. 2011 results: RB14 ADP, 11.0 PPG, RB25 finish.
  • Brown took over as the Colts’ lead back midway through the 2011 season and finished the year strong. 2012 results: RB19 ADP, 6.6 PPG, RB47 finish.
  • Ellington became the Cardinals’ top back midway through the 2013 season. 2014 results: RB11 ADP, 14.8 PPG, RB11 finish.
  • Stacy burst onto the scene for the Rams in Week 5 of the 2013 season, averaging 14.1 PPG, finishing as the RB14. 2014 results: RB15 ADP, 7.2 PPG, RB48 finish.
  • Anderson was a league-winner as the Broncos’ RB1 over the final seven weeks of the 2014 season. He averaged 15.1 PPG on the season, finishing as the RB10. 2015 results: RB6 ADP, 9.4 PPG, RB37 finish.
  • Forsett surprised as the Ravens’ lead back in 2014, averaging 15.3 ppg, finishing as the RB9. 2015 results: RB10 ADP, 12.2 PPG, RB18 finish.
  • Murray earned the Raiders’ RB1 job over the final month of the 2014 season. 2015 results: RB15 ADP, 12.7 PPG, RB14 finish.
  • Rawls exploded in Week 3 of the 2015 season, becoming the Seahawks’ top back. He had a 209-yard rushing performance in Week 11. On the season, Rawls averaged 10.6 PPG, finishing as the RB24. 2016 results: RB16 ADP, 8.4 PPG, RB44 finish.
  • Langford became the Bears’ lead back halfway through the 2015 season. He wound up averaging 9.7 PPG, finishing as the RB33. 2016 finish: RB19 ADP, 6.1 PPG, RB59 finish.
  • Howard quickly took Langford’s job in 2016, averaging 15.3 PPG, finishing as the RB8. 2017 finish: RB9 ADP, 12.5 PPG, RB16 finish.
  • Montgomery had converted from wide receiver about a third of the way through the 2016 season. 2017 results: RB16 ADP, 11.4 PPG, RB19 finish (only played eight games).
  • Collins surprised everyone as the Ravens’ lead back for most of the 2017 season. 2018 results: RB17 ADP, 10.9 PPG, RB31 finish.
  • Drake became the Dolphins’ RB1 in Week 13 of the 2017 season. 2018 results: RB19 ADP, 12.5 PPG, RB21 finish.
  • Williams barely played until becoming a league-winner for the final three weeks of the 2018 season. 2019 results: RB13 ADP, 12.8 PPG, RB22 finish.
  • Robinson surprisingly earned the Jaguars’ RB1 role as a UDFA rookie in 2020. He averaged 17.9 PPG, finishing as the RB5. 2021 results: RB17 ADP, 12.4 PPG, RB20 finish.
  • Gaskin came out of nowhere to average 16.4 PPG in 2020 for the Dolphins, finishing as the RB10. 2021 results: RB23 ADP, 10.2 PPG, RB31 finish.
  • Mitchell beat out the higher-drafted Trey Sermon to become the 49ers’ RB1 as a sixth-round rookie in 2021. He averaged 15 PPG, finishing as the RB14. 2022 results: RB 21 ADP, 8.7 PPG, N/A (only played five games due to multiple injuries).

Of our 17 running backs, Murray was the only one to finish higher than his ADP. And I wouldn’t even classify him as a hit because 2015 was an anomalously down year for running backs. 12.7 PPG is typically nowhere near the overall RB14.

Looking strictly at expected fantasy points per game relative to ADP, three running backs (Ellington, Drake, and Robinson) were mostly worth their cost in fantasy drafts. Montgomery was on pace to be a fourth, but injuries limited him to eight games.

Five running backs were completely unstartable, while another four were worth rostering and using when needed, but nowhere near worth what fantasy managers paid in drafts.

Breaking it down as simply as possible.

Exceeded expectations: 0%
Met expectations: 24%
Below expectations: 47%
Complete busts: 29%

What Does This Mean for 2024?

This year, we have two running backs that fall into the above group of players:

  • Kyren Williams (RB7, 2024)
  • Zamir White (RB21, 2024)

Both of these running backs did absolutely nothing as rookies. Williams became the Rams’ starter in Week 1 and dominated all season save for the five games he missed.

White barely even saw the field until a Josh Jacobs injury thrust him into the RB1 role for the final four games of the season. Over that span, White scored at least 13.1 fantasy points in every game, averaging 15.2 PPG.

It’s very easy to paint a picture as to why Williams and White might be outliers. As you can see above, none of his predecessors in this category of running backs were anywhere near as prolific as Williams, who averaged 21.2 fantasy points per game last season.

As for White, he saw a heavy workload down the stretch that coincided with a coaching change. That head coach is back for this season, and the Raiders did not add anyone of consequence to their backfield.

Yes, all of these things are true. However, there’s a reason the 17 backs listed above all had ADPs inside the top 24. There were plenty of reasons to be bullish on their outlooks for the upcoming season. Yet, not a single one of them truly panned out.

White is far more palatable than Williams for the 2024 season, as his RB21 price tag comes with significantly less risk. Among the biggest failures in our sample size were the guys with top 12 ADPs.

In addition to the historical analysis, we have the Rams drafting Blake Corum in the third round, Williams being a former fifth-round pick, and head coach Sean McVay’s history of having no allegiance to any particular running back (despite being very allegiant to whichever one he chooses to be his lead back).

READ MORE: Is Blake Corum a Threat to Kyren Williams’ Fantasy Value in 2024?

As great as Williams was last season, his job is not safe. If you look at the 17 backs above, one thing many of them have in common is they are either Day 3 picks or UDFAs. Donald Brown (Round 1) and Kenyan Drake (Round 3) are the only two who weren’t. Williams was a Round 5 pick, and White was a Round 4 pick.

To be clear, I am not saying fantasy managers should completely avoid Williams and White. The goal here is to present actionable information.

There are many factors that go into determining whether a player is worth selecting in fantasy drafts. By understanding the bucket of players Williams and White fall into, fantasy managers can make more informed decisions in drafts.

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