The Curious Case of Jonathan Williams

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Dynasty fantasy football players had pegged Jonathan Williams as an up and coming stud.  But what went wrong?

 

The offseason brings a lot of work for the dynasty fantasy footballer.  Evaluating NFL Draft prospects, following NFL free agency, and ultimately identifying good situations that could present value or allow a talented player to rise.  The Buffalo Bills RB situation was this.  LeSean McCoy was the stud, but the Bills ran a lot in 2016 and no team will ride their lead back into the ground anymore.  Back-up Mike Gillislee had moved onto the Patriots and his 101 carries from 2016 were going to need replacing.  There was shining star Jonathan Williams who was moving into his 2nd year.  The dynasty community, myself included, embraced Williams as a potential dynasty steal and future stud in the making until everything went horribly wrong.

 
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Jonathan Williams was a college favorite at the University of Arkansas.  As a freshman in 2012, he shined in limited opportunities averaging over 5 yards a carry.  In 2013, Arkansas developed their rushing identity with the two-headed monster approach of adding freshman Alex Collins to the budding Williams.  Williams ran for 900 yards on 150 carries, averaging 6 YPC, doing his best work against Top 5 SEC opponents (he average 6.93 YPC against #2 Auburn and over 10 YPC against #4 South Carolina).  The NFL buzz began for Williams and as a junior he didn’t disappoint leading the Razorbacks in carries and rushing yards for the first time in his career as well as leading the SEC in broken tackles.  After that year, some had him as a Top 50 NFL Draft pick, but Williams decided to return to school for his senior year.  He topped Mel Kiper’s RB board.  It was his time to shine.  Then, disaster struck.  In mid-August, just before the season, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema revealed that Williams had left foot injury that required surgery that would put him on the shelf for the entire regular season of his senior year.  Williams never returned, and was thrust into the NFL Draft process after missing a whole year.  He participated in the 2016 Senior Bowl in a limited fashion and went to the NFL Combine but did not participate in any drills that involved running or jumping.  The medical analysis from teams on his left foot was tenuous at best with the screws only being removed from his left foot months before the NFL Draft.  He was a big back with speed and skill, but his health remained a question.  Many NFL Draft analysts put him in the Top 100 of their mock drafts only to see him tumble to the 3rd day of the draft and go to the Buffalo Bills in the 5th round.

 

Even despite the fall down the draft board, dynasty players were excited for Jonathan Williams in the NFL.  He has been drafted to an NFL team known for running the ball and they had a clear hole at the #3 RB position.  Then, Williams was pulled over in July of 2016 on suspicion of DWI.  TMZ came out with the video of Williams asking the police officers to let him off because he just got drafted while admitting he had been drinking.  Williams refused to take a Breathalyzer and was arrested.  With the NFL taking a harder stance on legal issues, it seemed like a blow to the rookie, but he stayed with the team and kept working.  He played in the first three preseason games and had success, scoring 2 touchdowns and averaging almost 4 yards a carry.  He won the 3rd RB job and looked like there was potential for more.  With only 27 carries, Williams did find the end zone once and flashed some potential at times.  He was a dynasty stash darling, but still seemed a ways away from playing time.

 

It seemed that 2017 would be very similar to the Bills backfield.  RB Mike Gillislee was a restricted free agent and with his usage in 2016, most thought the Bills would keep him.  But, Buffalo only placed an original tender on Gillislee and, as always, the New England Patriots snapped him up.  It looked like prime time for Jonathan Williams to step into the #2 role.  On top of that, he was acquitted of the 2016 DWI charge and was not suspended by the NFL.  The Bills opted to not draft a RB and their only moves in free agency at the position was adding FB journeyman Mike Tolbert and RB turned CB turned RB Taiwan Jones.  Jonathan Williams was sure to move into Gillsilee’s role and have an impact.  And if LeSean McCoy got hurt?  Jonathan Williams could be the next breakout fantasy star.

 

In late July, a report by WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia claimed that the Bills had a lot of confidence in Jonathan Williams.  Camp seemed to be going well and the first preseason game was a breakout with Williams averaging nearly 10 YPC.  He suffered a minor hamstring injury, but was back for preseason game #2.  It was a less than stellar performance, but fine for preseason.  Soon after, Williams injured his knee in practice and was held out of the all important 3rd preseason game.  He rehabbed back to preseason game 4 where he started and scored while racking up 53 yards on 10 carries.  We were all drafting Williams onto our fantasy squads as LeSean McCoy’s handcuff or a dynasty stash for if McCoy went down.  When cut day came, Jonathan Williams wasn’t on the radar for the fantasy community, but the Bills cut him from the squad.  Then, he cleared waivers.  It seemed NO team wanted Williams.  He has finally ended up on the Broncos practice squad and we are left with wondering, “What happened?”

 

The reasons for Jonathan Williams being cut seem to be as follows.  First and foremost, there is a whole new staff for the Bills.  Head Coach Sean McDermott was hired this past January while new GM Brandon Beane was hire in May, both coming from the Carolina Panthers organization.  They had no loyalty or interest in the old regime’s players, and the system they were coming from in Carolina was very different.  Skill position players were expected to contribute on special teams.  While both were with the Panthers organization, Carolina released RB DeAngelo Williams because he didn’t have any special teams value.  This seemed to be the case with Jonathan Williams also.  Add in the multiple injuries and preseason, and the coaching staff seemed to want the roster spot for Mike Tolbert, a journeyman coming from that same Panthers organization.

 

Even if the Bills wanted to oust Jonathan Williams, why was he not claimed on waivers?  It simply seemed like bad timing.  Cut day brings a ton of players onto waivers, and the only claimed RB was the Washington Redskins Matt Jones who has a better track record than Williams and even has taken some special teams reps.  Most teams had their RB depth charts set after they cut down to 53, leaving no room for Jonathan Williams.  He ends up on the Denver Broncos practice squad and here we are.  What do we do now?

 

Even if you invested in Jonathan Williams, it is time to cut bait with him on your dynasty squad.  Unless your rosters are super deep, Williams has an uphill battle past CJ Anderson, Devontae Booker, and rookie preseason sensation De’Angelo Henderson to get on the roster (let alone playing time).  You can drop Williams, but don’t forget about him.  There is still talent there and perhaps this could serve as a wake up call.  If lingering injuries plague the Broncos RBs (and Booker is already tenuous with that,) Williams could get the call up.  My plan in my leagues is to leave Williams on the waiver wire and snatch him up at the end of the season to hold and see what the offseason brings.  A lot can change, and perhaps the talent Jonathan Williams has could land him into some playing time for 2018.  For 2017 though, let someone else use the roster spot and just keep that Arkansas RB on your free agent sheet for later.

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