Mike Williams has long been considered a fantasy football sleeper. He’s got the talent and his team isn’t afraid to throw him the ball, but with the quarterback change from Philip Rivers to Tyrod Taylor, and now to rookie Justin Herbert, a lot of the shine has faded from Mike Williams’ luster. He had a great Week 5 performance on Monday night, and now that teammate Keenan Allen may miss a week or two, can fantasy managers trust Mike Williams in their starting lineups in moving forward?
Mike Williams’ fantasy history
When Mike Williams entered the NFL as a rookie wide receiver from Clemson in 2017, he had a RAS (Relative Athletic Score) of 7.41, putting him at WR61 in his class. A score this high means that he was more athletic than 74% of all wide receivers who entered the league up to that point, based on his metrics.
For reference, this put him just behind Curtis Samuel (7.73, WR53) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (7.63, WR55) in his same draft class. He was in pretty good company then and is still in good company now based on his numbers on the field.
As a rookie in 2017, Williams caught 11 of 23 targets for 95 yards in 20 games played — a pretty slow start. In 2018, Williams saw an uptick in his stats, catching 43 of 66 targets for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns. His fantasy value was tied to that high touchdown total, so he was firmly on the radar for most fantasy owners then and went into 2019 with even higher expectations.
In his 2019 season, he finished with 49 catches on 90 targets for 1,001 yards, which was definitely a productive season, but he only had 2 touchdowns. He also missed a lot of the balls thrown his way, with a catch rate of a meager 54%.
On the other hand, he had the highest yards per reception in the league at 20.4, but his reduced touchdowns and missed targets bothered his fantasy owners who expected him to be a larger part of the offense in terms of scoring. Entering 2020, everyone in fantasy was curious about which Mike Williams they would get — the 10 touchdown stud, or the 54% catch rate dud.
A rocky start to Williams’ 2020 season
With the departure of veteran QB Philip Rivers, everyone was nervous that the entire offense would take a step backward. In Week 1, journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor took the starting QB job while rookie QB Justin Herbert got up to speed. Taylor found Mike Williams on 4 of 9 targets for 69 yards and no touchdowns that week, which was underwhelming. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that bad for a team who missed the entire preseason to build rapport, but expectations definitely needed adjusting.
After Taylor was hurt (by his own doctors no less) following Week 1 and the team handed the offense over to Herbert, Williams saw his production suffer immediately. In Weeks 2 and 3, Williams only saw a total of 5 targets, catching 3 of them for 31 total yards. Yawn.
It was clear that he was an afterthought with Herbert at the helm, which worried fantasy managers everywhere. Williams ended up missing Week 4 due to injury, forcing many to consider dropping Williams as he entered their Week 5 matchup in primetime against the Saints.
On Monday night of Week 5, Herbert connected with Williams on a touchdown early and it was if a light bulb went off. After Keenan Allen later went out with a back injury, Herbert relied heavily on the running game and short passes to the running backs, but he did find Williams a few more times, including another touchdown later in the game. It looked like Williams and Herbert were finally on the same page and trust was beginning to build, but will that continue?
Mike Williams has a clear path to production now
After his great Week 5 performance, Mike Williams is currently ranked at WR52 in PPR scoring with 11.2 points per game (WR46). Historically, Mike Williams has been fairly consistent, with a CS (Consistency Score) of 4.18 in 2018 and 2019. So far in 2020, his CS is only 2.27 (WR60), but odds are very good that now that the rust has been knocked off, and he is building rapport with Herbert, he should once again see the kind of production that fantasy managers have been waiting for– numbers that should continue to improve.
Williams’ OVM (Offensive Value Metric) for Week 1 was a 24.93, which means that he was largely responsible for his own output as a receiver. He didn’t qualify in Weeks 2 or 3 due to his low volume, but his Week 5 score was even higher at 31.23. This puts him near the elite range for wide receivers in Week 5 alone.
Clearly, he’s got the on-the-field talent to perform, and he now has the opportunity to produce with Keenan Allen missing time. But what should we expect from him in the coming weeks from a fantasy standpoint?
Originally, Williams and the Chargers were supposed to face the New York Jets in Week 6, but due to the changes in the NFL Schedule, they now have a bye week instead. This gives Keenan Allen more time to recover and the team more time to practice together as well. Week 7 has the Chargers facing the Jacksonville Jaguars and Week 8 has them facing the division rival Denver Broncos.
Both of these defenses rank in the top 3 of our Defensive Points Allowed Consistency Score metric, meaning they are two of the three worst teams at allowing consistently high scores to wide receivers. This definitely bodes well for someone who has a history of being consistent as well as finally finding his groove in the offense. The timing couldn’t be better for a Mike Williams breakout run once the team returns from their bye.
Mike Williams’ Fantasy Outlook
Given all of this — Williams history as a pass-catcher, his newfound trust with the rookie QB Herbert, Allen’s likelihood of missing time, as well as Williams’ own consistency and OVM numbers — all signs point to Mike Williams being a reliable starter for your fantasy team from here on out. While Allen hasn’t missed a game since Williams entered the league, having one fewer receiver available would definitely increase Williams’ workload if Allen misses time.
Mike Williams is easily worth starting in your flex spot even once Allen is back on the field. Also, he’ll have already had his bye so you can rely on him each week going forward, which is nice to have as this season of change continues.
Depending on your roster, he could even have some potential as your WR2/3 as there are a lot of receivers seeing injuries creep up due to the lack of a true offseason. With or without Allen, look for Williams to once again be in weekly consideration for your starting lineups.
That being said, Williams is easily worth the waiver wire add and stash this week during his bye, and should produce for your fantasy team as the season continues, something fantasy managers are desperately looking for as the chaotic 2020 season pushes on.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.