In the introductory article for this series, we laid out the framework for identifying ambiguity in best ball. If you’re not sure what we’re referring to, read that piece before continuing with this article.
Keeping those concepts in mind, we’ll examine a player with borderline limitless weekly upside but a counterbalancing downside that includes a six-game suspension and very little in the way of proven on-field NFL success. We’re talking about Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams, who the team selected No. 12 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Other profiles: Treylon Burks | DeAndre Hopkins
All data discussed is from Sports Info Solutions
Williams’ Best Ball Value
Coaching, Personnel Changes
Coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson return for their third and second years in Detroit, respectively. The team allowed starting Z wide receiver DJ Chark to walk in free agency and only brought in over-the-hill veteran Marvin Jones Jr. to replace him. Jones is likely to fill a rotational role, considering Williams’ presence.
Williams was expected to fill in directly for Chark on the perimeter until he was slapped with a six-game suspension by the league for placing wagers while at team facilities. The Lions also dealt tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings at the 2022 trade deadline. Detroit addressed that vacancy early in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, selecting tight end Sam LaPorta at No. 34 overall.
Detroit also turned over its running back room. It allowed fan favorite Jamaal Williams to walk in free agency, traded D’Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles during the draft, signed David Montgomery away from the Chicago Bears and drafted Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama with the 12th overall pick.
>>READ: Grading the Detroit Lions’ draft
Team Volume, Efficiency
Pace of play values remain historically difficult to predict from year to year because team values depend on various external factors, including game script, game environment, flow and schedule. That said, the team’s pace of play and the number of plays run per game increased in 2022 with Johnson as offensive coordinator when compared to the 2021 season under Anthony Lynn.
The Lions ranked in the top half of the league in first-half pace of play and plays per game in 2022. A quick side note – I generally prefer to utilize first-half pace of play over situation-neutral and overall pace-of-play values because a team’s pace has yet to be influenced by the external factors discussed above.
The Lions’ coaching continuity gives us a better starting point for team projections. Last season, the Lions ran 1,091 offensive plays during the 17-game season. Considering the fluidity associated with pace of play and offensive plays, a conservative estimate yields a standard deviation of 50 plays in each direction.
A league average 55 percent pass rate at one standard deviation yields 572 to 627 pass attempts for the Lions in 2023, which is right in line with their 56 percent pass rate from 2022.
Important Metrics (2022, limited sample)
- Targets per Route Run (TPRR): 26.5%
- Route Participation: 15.2%
- Target Rate: 4.3%
- Average Depth of Target (aDOT): 16.6 yards
- Red Zone Target Share: 0.0%
Williams didn’t play an NFL snap until Week 13 of the 2022 season because he was recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the National Championship game the previous January. Once healthy, he peaked at just 18 snaps during the final six weeks of the season.
The glaring statistic was the elevated targets per route run value (26.5 percent), which is an indication of intent. Furthermore, he was targeted at an average depth of 16.6 yards, slightly higher than the 15.4 average depth of target (aDOT) for Chark over a larger sample size.
Chark finished the season ranked fourth in the league in aDOT as the team’s primary Z receiver. That is the position typically reserved for deep routes to manipulate opposing secondaries.
Williams’ 4.30 speed also almost directly mirrors Chark’s 4.34 speed. It makes sense why the Lions were comfortable moving on from Chark this offseason, knowing they had the 12th overall pick in their back pockets, who held similar measurables.
I don’t expect Jones to take away a lot of Williams’ volume once he is eligible to return to game action in Week 7.
Considering Chark and Hockenson are no longer with the team and that Gibbs and Amon-Ra St. Brown will eat up underneath targets, it’s safe to assume Williams’ significant 26.5 percent targets per route run rate can translate moving forward.
The combination of Chark and Kalif Raymond (the team’s primary Z wide receiver while Chark was injured last year) logged a snap rate of 75 percent or more in 13 of 17 games. That should fall primarily onto Williams’ plate for as long as he is active. Finally, the two combined to run 626 routes in 2022, 466 of which came from an outside alignment.
That would place Williams around 350 routes over the full season, but we can project him for 226 routes considering he will miss the first six weeks of the season. Expect Williams to land in the 60 to 86 target range over an expectation of 11 games played.
Variance-Induced Upside, Downside
Williams’ upside is clear and tantalizing. With an expectation of 5.45 to 7.82 targets per game, an elite aDOT and a glaring offensive need for his skillset, the problem for Williams does not lie in his per-game expectations.
The problem is we have known Williams will miss the first six weeks of the NFL season for the entire time that best ball drafts have been open. What we’ve seen is an average draft position that has slipped from the late fourth round all the way to the ninth round on Underdog as drafters weigh the missed games too heavily.
Williams’ weekly upside (considering his athletic profile similar to Will Fuller), team dynamics and needs, and the upside of Detroit’s offense outweighs his deflated price tag as drafters overreact to his suspension.
The nuanced variance associated with this assertion comes through roster construction techniques that can mask the missed games and spread the expected production over the rest of the roster. Rosters that contain Williams leave the draft with exposure to a player who was going in the late fourth round before his suspension.
That idea gains increased importance when you consider Detroit’s schedule, which has them in potential shootouts in Week 16 and Week 17 against the Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. The depressed ADP and elite per-game upside have me siding with a significantly overweight approach on the talented second-year wide receiver.
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