As young running backs reign supreme in fantasy football, it’s no surprise to see Javonte Williams high on people’s draft boards for 2022. The Broncos’ second-year running back is coming off a strong rookie campaign in which he finished the RB17 in .5PPR and now will play in an even more dynamic offense with the off-season addition of Russell Wilson. The hype is certainly there for him this year as his ADP has Williams a locked-in RB1: His Underdog ADP currently ranks him the RB11 while on Fantasy Football Calculator, he’s the RB12.
Well the hype is wrong people.
I’m not here to argue Williams’ real football talent or dynasty value. He’s got plenty of both. I’m honestly annoyed with myself for trading him from my dynasty team. I’m looking purely at 2022, and why he’s got a real uphill battle if he’s going to live up to his RB1 ADP in redraft.
Plagued by Inefficiencies
While Williams did finish a top-20 fantasy back last year, a bit of that can be attributed to him playing all 17 games. Of the top-24 fantasy backs of 2021, only 7 of them played all 17 games. Obviously playing the most amount of games helps when it comes to tallying up total points scored in a season. If you look instead at Williams’ points per game (10.8), he drops down to the RB22 last year.
Looking past just scoring stats only continues to diminish Williams’ 2021 fantasy season.
In both our NECC and PER ratings, Williams graded out well below fellow top-24 running backs. NECC rating is a metric that grades a player’s fantasy efficiency and consistency over the course of a season. Among RB1s and RB2s last year, Williams had the 3rd-worst NECC rating behind just David Montgomery and A.J. Dillon. He didn’t fair much better in PER rating—a metric used to equalize a player’s per game fantasy production based on an average starting workload—as he had the 6th-worst rating.
Williams proved to be both inconsistent and inefficient with his touches from a fantasy perspective. In order for Williams to make the expected leap from a mid to low-tier RB2 to a trusted RB1, he would need to see an increased workload in order to counteract his inefficiencies. There are plenty of running backs who don’t grade well in NECC or PER who finish as RB1s simply because they see a huge, reliable workload (see: Harris, Najee).
I mentioned that William’s PER rating ranked him 18th out of the top-24 fantasy backs last year. He finished 2021 with a 11.2 PER rating, meaning he averaged 11.2 FPPG last year seeing an average starting workload. For running backs, that’s 15 touches per game. Last year Williams actually averaged 14.4 touches per game. If you calculate Williams’ 2021 total points using his PER rating, he would’ve finished with 190.4 .5PPR total points. That would’ve placed him just above Dalvin Cook, moving him from the RB17 to RB15.
I calculated that out just to show that even a slight increase in workload isn’t going to counteract Williams’ inefficiencies and lack of consistency. Even if he’d had an extra touch per game, that wouldn’t have placed him as an RB1 or even really near what I’d deem trustworthy RB1 territory. Unfortunately for Williams—and Williams managers—I don’t expect the second-year back to see a massive increase in touches.
Trapped In a Backfield
If the Broncos’ hadn’t re-signed veteran running back Melvin Gordon this off-season, I likely wouldn’t be writing this article. Or at the very least, I wouldn’t be so out on Williams this year in redraft. Remember when I said Williams finished the RB17 in .5PPR last year? Guess who finished the RB18.
Gordon finished just 2.2 total fantasy points behind Williams last year. The two had nearly identical rushing stats, both carrying the ball 203 times with Gordon racking up 918 yards and Williams 903. Their touchdown production however was drastically different. Gordon doubled Williams’ rushing touchdowns, scoring eight times on the ground. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Gordon ranked 9th last year among all running backs in red zone attempts. He took almost 50% of the Broncos handoffs inside the 20, directly leading to 6 of his 8 scores. (For comparison, Williams carried the ball 35% of the time in the red zone, leading to all 4 of his rushing touchdowns.)
Hopeful fantasy managers can point to the passing game as a space where Williams could separate himself from Gordon in 2022. After all, the rookie saw 53 targets to Gordon’s 38 last year, hauling in 43 balls for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns. Being more involved in the passing game is obviously a great sign for fantasy managers, particularly those in .5PPR or full PRR leagues. However, even this apparent advantage isn’t 100% reliable.
First off, while Williams did finish with more targets than Gordon, Gordon played almost as many passing downs (296 to 330), ran almost as many routes (247 to 262), and actually ran a higher percentage of routes on passing downs (83% to 79%). I would feel much more confident in Williams’ hold over the air attack if he were the clear-cut favorite for operating on passing downs. (Look at the Patriots last year. Brandon Bolden played 300 passing downs. Damien Harris was second with 174 passing downs played. That’s the kind of reliable advantage I’m looking for.)
Secondly, new quarterback Russell Wilson isn’t exactly known for peppering his backs with targets. Last year, the Seahawks ranked dead last in running back targets, only targeting them 14.2% of the time (30th). In fact, not once has Wilson ever targeted a running back over 50 times in a season throughout his career. Wilson has shown time and time again he much prefers pushing the ball down the field to his receivers, hence why he led the league last year in average depth of target (10.2).
I’m not anticipating the Broncos running out the exact same split between Gordon and Williams in 2022. I would expect the team to put more of the work on the younger back’s plate. However, you can’t ignore Denver bringing back a player they were more confident using in the red zone, who produced better results running the football, and was given almost equal opportunity in the passing game, all with a quarterback who doesn’t love targeting the position.
What This Means Come Draft Day
No player in fantasy football is straight up undraftable. It always about value and whether or not the player can match or outperform where you draft them. If in your draft, Williams falls to the backend of the 3rd round, he’s worth the investment to me. Finishing as a reliable, mid-tier RB2 again feels much more in his wheelhouse for 2022 than does finishing an RB1.
Again though, that’s not where Williams is going.
Williams is going at pick 22.5 according to Underdog and 18.3 on Fantasy Football Calculator. This puts him within picks of Aaron Jones, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, CeeDee Lamb, Deebo Samuel, and Tee Higgins, all of whom have much easier paths to being elite fantasy options this year (if they’re not already).
Due to the inconsistencies we saw his rookie year, paired with the Broncos retaining handcuff Melvin Gordon and adding non-running back targeter Russell Wilson, I’m confidently not drafting Williams as a top-12 fantasy back for 2022.
- Among the top-24 fantasy running backs in 2021, Javonte Williams was one of the least efficient and consistent.
- Williams and Melvin Gordon put up nearly identical rushing stats last year and the Broncos’ chose to re-sign Gordon.
- Don’t rely on Williams getting a lot of passing game work as Russell Wilson has a history of not targeting his running backs.
- Williams’ current ADP of RB12 is too high for a player with his uncertainties.