Coming out of Western Oregon, Tyrell Williams’ college production was uninspiring. He didn’t catch many passes or score many touchdowns, but what he did manage was an above-average yards per reception of 17, the first foundation for his NFL career. Athletically, Williams posted a good 4.48 40-yard dash and an excellent 10.40 catch radius (98th percentile). As a 23-year old rookie in 2015, Williams had two catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in Week 17, the second game he played all season. Safe to say, no one expected Williams to turn into the overall WR18 in 2016.
Then injuries decimated the Chargers receiving core. Stevie Johnson tore his meniscus in the preseason. A torn ACL knocked Keenan Allen out for the entire 2016 campaign. Knee problems hampered Travis Benjamin. Antonio Gates had an early season hamstring injury. Through it all, the fantasy community overlooked the 6’3″ 205 lb. athletic specimen who was the last man standing. Tyrell Williams rewarded the Chargers’ trust with a 1,000-yard season. Even despite his mid-WR2 finish, Tyrell Williams has a MFL10 ADP worthy of a WR4.
Tyrell Williams is the forgotten 1,000-yard receiver.
The Chargers were one of the pass-happiest teams in the NFL in 2016. Philip Rivers’ 578 pass attempts ranked 10th in the NFL, while his 4,390 yards ranked fifth, continuing the Chargers reliance on the passing attack. Over the last four years, Rivers has attempted 570 passes three times and passed for more than 4,200 yards each of those seasons. Rivers has shown remarkable consistency in his willingness to pass and he has been one of the most prolific TD-passing QBs in the NFL, averaging 31 TDs over his last seven seasons. Much of Rivers’ recent success has been driven by downfield passing and redzone volume.
Rivers chucked the ball 20+ yards 79 times in 2016, good for sixth in the NFL. His most frequent targets being Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. However, Tyrell was better at holding onto those deep targets. Not only that, but 27 of Tyrell’s team leading 119 targets (22.7%) came 20+ yards downfield. In fact, out of his seven TDs in 2016, five of them came from 20+ yards. Tyrell’s speed and ball skills fit Rivers’ strengths as 11 of his 33 passing TDs were deep bombs. As mentioned earlier, Travis Benjamin dealt with knee injuries, but eventually returned to being the primary deep threat for the Chargers. This forced Williams to fit a different role with the Chargers if he wished to continue producing.
Philip River’s favorite redzone weapon is, was, and will be Antonio Gates. Gates saw nine red zone targets in 2016, seven of which he caught for exactly seven TDs, a 100% red zone catch to TD rate. Those red zone TDs came from distances of 1, 2 (twice), 4, 7, 11, and 13 yards. When in close, Rivers looked to Gates, and nothing should change in 2017 as the Chargers attempt to get Gates the one TD he needs to be the all-time leader among TEs. However, over the course of 2016, Tyrell gradually gained more trust from Rivers. He finished the season tied with Hunter Henry in redzone targets at 17. Williams was slightly less efficient at converting his opportunities into receptions with 10, 12th among WRs, as opposed to Henry’s 11, third among TEs. Plus, Henry was extremely efficient at converting these receptions into TDs with all eight of his TDs coming inside the redzone. As Gates (eventually) fades into retirement, Henry should fulfill Gate’s role in the offense, but not in 2017. In the meantime, Henry’s red zone targets will go down based on standard regression because, simply put, most people don’t see 22% of their targets go for TDs. Tyrell Williams however, could see positive regression for his red zone scoring, a welcome boon for his fantasy owners.
Williams added another dimension to his game as he shifted away from the deep threat role. He became a YAC monster feasting the middle of the field. He took on the Keenan Allen role. With an average depth of target (aDOT) of 11.4, Williams had multiple opportunities a game for yards after the catch. His 439 yards after catch (YAC) ranked 8th behind players like OBJ, Jarvis Landry, and Antonio Brown, all of whom had many more receptions. His route charts from Weeks 5, 7, 12, and 17 showcase the variety of ways he was given YAC opportunities.
Tyrell Williams showcased the different skill sets he possesses for the Chargers in 2016. However at a quick glance, the Chargers don’t seem to need anyone in those spots. Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin are getting healthy, and they drafted Mike Williams seventh overall. Each of these players has a seemingly defined role. But real life could get in the way. Mike Williams missed OTAs with a back injury. Keenan Allen seems to be recovering well, but he’s a wait-and-see. Travis Benjamin is recovering from a knee scope and is a potential cut candidate, if not this year, but in 2018. Antonio Gates is another year older. Hunter Henry is still just a second-year TE.
The questions and uncertainty are there in Los Angeles. The one certainty, though, is Tyrell Williams. Whether it be deep passes or medium passes, he has the ability to fit any role they require. His WR43, 108th overall MFL10 ADP is ridiculously low, as drafters overrate Hunter Henry and downplay Keenan Allen’s downside. A dynasty ADP in the 70s is more palatable, but I wouldn’t mind reaching a round early, because someone smart will use him somewhere.