Sophomore Wide Receiver Showcase
April 16, 2014 | Nathan Miller
On a scale of interest ranging from salary cap long division to the mention of a role play exercise at work trainings, Kenny Stills and Terrance Williams rank at about an 8 for me. I find myself gravitating towards taking a closer look at both as next season closes in.
While Williams has created a sizable market for his services, Stills remains a cheaper option with less intrigue and demand. As a disclaimer going forward, I love both of these players. I am a happy owner of one or the other (sometimes both) in many leagues. Both rose above expectations in their rookie season, and both find themselves (at the moment) as the WR2 in their respective offense. My goal is to take aim at the expectations and hoopla surrounding them and identify if there is merit to the excitement.
The majority of rookie drafts (offense only) in 2013 dynasty leagues had Williams as a mid-to-late second round draft choice, while Stills was likely found lingering two or more rounds later. Current start-up ADPs at DLF, Fantasy Football Calculator, and Dynasty Football Warehouse reflect this trend averaging Williams as the 33rd WR (6th round) off the board and Stills averaging as the 46th; a full 4-6 rounds later than Williams.
As a fan of measurables, I want to start at the beginning.
|Name||Height||Weight||40 Yard||Bench Press||Vert Leap (in)||Broad Jump||Shuttle||3Cone|
Combine data for both receivers leaves nothing to hate. Williams steps in with ideal WR size and speed, and while Stills is on the lighter side, it’s worth noting he’s put on 20 pounds in the last four years (with more likely to come), putting him into a range I’m more comfortable with. Interestingly enough, he hasn’t lost a step in 40 time since the adding the bulk (4.36-4.38 Scout.com). *Stills did not participate in the 3 Cone at the combine, so I’ve included his Oklahoma Pro Day result
William collegiate career reads like the Billboard charts for the first four weeks of “What does the Fox Say?” He shows about as consistent improvement year-to-year as one would hope for a developing talent. Following the 2011 season, Baylor lost Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright to the NFL, which left many wondering how the Baylor offense would produce with such a loss. In a statement to his critics, all Williams did after that was grab 97 balls for 12 touchdowns on his way to leading the nation in receiving yards.
The negatives for Williams entering the NFL were that he was unpolished as a receiver and lacked the skill to run a variety of routes. He also was not regarded as a natural hands catcher, as he used his body all too often to make a catch.
With a gimpy Miles Austin (is there any other?) in Dallas, Williams found himself a starter on offense for 8 games of the season. Williams’ transition to the NFL couldn’t have gone much smoother. He was quickly a trusted target of Romo and didn’t let up. With Austin jettisoned out of Dallas, Williams is stepping into a full-time starter role. Having a Mr. Dez Bryant opposite of oneself aids tremendously to potential success, but what can we expect of Williams?
The big talk in “Big D” this year is the signing of Scott Linehan to take over as offensive coordinator and primary play caller. While the Dallas coaching hierarchy reeks of excess, bloat, and organizational dysfunction, word is that it will be Linehan’s offense. Many are quick to point to Linehan’s pass-and-pass-often model as a sign of promise for the Dallas fantasy offense. On the surface, however, there’s not much to bark at.
From 2009-2013, the average for offensive plays and pass attempts per season for a Garrett lead Cowboys offense averaged 1015 and 597 respectively. Conversely, in Detroit, Linehan averaged 1084/651. That equates to a smidge above 3 extra pass attempts per game.
Digging a bit deeper, I’m not convinced the Dallas offense upticks much, if at all, under Linehan. While neither Dallas nor Detroit has been the Lance Armstrong of NFL teams when it comes to winning (note – Apparently losing a testicle leads to abnormal HGH in the system), Dallas has enjoyed an overall better record and more competitive atmosphere than Detroit.
From 2009-2013, the Linehan offense in Detroit ran 2937 plays while behind their opponent in any given regular season game. While under Garrett, the Cowboys had a much more comfortable 2256 plays run at a deficit. That difference is enough to move 8.5 plays per game in a different direction. This scuffs up the increase in offensive plays/potential argument a bit, as a talented, potential playoff team in a questionable NFC East certainly changes things for Linehan, but unfortunately for fantasy footballers, an increase in production for Dez and Williams may not be one of them. Linehan isn’t creating something new in Dallas he’s just refining it with better play management decisions.
Comparing Stills’ and Williams’ college careers is an argument in shells vs. elbow Mac ‘n’ Cheese. While Williams’ arc was one for the stars, Stills was the model of consistency season-to season. Stills lacked the piñata burst of Williams’ senior year, but he was a reliable target throughout his career in Oklahoma. As far as downside, the negatives surrounding Stills were attributed to his size and off-field issues (DUI his freshman year), of which neither have had a negative impact on his success.
Last season for the New Orleans Saints, Stills blew up in a big way. Coming from a family that has ties to the NFL (Stills’ father and uncle both played), his highlight reel is, technically speaking, bonkers. Stills became a threat in the NO offense, and Brees was more comfortable throwing his way as the season wore on.
A closer look at Stills’ rookie season reveals something amazing. Stills averaged 20 yards/reception last year. Since 1966 (AFL-NFL merger), 15 receivers have averaged over 20 yards/reception in their rookie season (minimum of 30 receptions) – Stills ranks 13th on that list behind Michael Irvin. Realistically, this is irrelevant, as the likelihood of a repeat performance is akin to Emma Watson realizing her undying love for me.
Using the RotoViz WR Similarity Score application, only Mike Wallace, Kelly Campbell, and Aldrick Robinson had a similar yard/reception range (19+) and followed it up the following season. I expect Stills’ YPR numbers to return to a common mean of around 13 YPR range over the course of a full season in a starting role. Regardless, it will still make him a viable option for teams going forward.
That being said, taking a closer look at Stills’ YPR using ProFootballFocus’ aDOT (Average Depth Of Target) scores gives one hope that the numbers may not be deceiving at all. Filtering WRs involved in at least 60% of their team’s snaps places Stills squarely as numero uno in aDOT.
While many short highlight snippets and fantasy manager’s selective memories will likely access deep passes to Stills, the fact is that nearly two-thirds of his receptions were grabbed going “over the middle” in short to intermediate territory. For me, this says a lot about him as a player, and drives home the sense that he is absolutely more than a deep 9-route threat.
Further, in 2013 Stills started 10 games alternating between RWR and LWR. In 6 of those games he had a 100% catch rate. We can easily toss out two of those games due to him going 1-1 on receptions, but over the course of the 2013 season he rated as the 8th receiver in lowest drop rate on PFF (min. 25% involvement in the offense). Comparatively, Terrance Williams rated as the 45th lowest drop rate among WRs.
Now, if you’ve skimmed through this article to avoid the nuts and bolts and get to the point, well here it is – I am high on both Williams and Stills. The difference is that Williams is safely a WR3 at this point (with WR2 upside), but unfortunately most managers know this and acquiring him will cost you WR2 value or higher. Finishing as a WR4 last season in only 8 starts projects him highly in an offense that scores. A team with depth in roster or rookie picks can certainly make a move for him, and should if the price is right.
Stills, however, is undervalued in my mind. His cost is WR4-5 range, and he should produce comfortably as a WR3. His ceiling is much higher, especially given the probability that we are likely going to see a new New Orleans offense this season. With the release of Sproles, Moore, and Meachem, this offense will need to refocus on its talent in 2014. Stills will be a big part of that, and although the NO offense can be fickle for fantasy owners, it will be productive and Stills has shown consistency throughout his collegiate and pro career.