Fantasy managers were thrown a major curveball on Wednesday when it was reported that Kansas City Chiefs starting running back and Super Bowl star Damien Williams will be opting out of the 2020 NFL season. He’s the first major offensive skill position star to choose to do so. Here’s what the Chiefs had to say about Williams’ decision:
"As an organization, we certainly understand and respect Damien’s choice, knowing it was made in the best interest of his family. He means a lot to our football team as a player and a person, and we’re going to miss having him around this season.”
This obviously has major fantasy implications for the 2020 season.
Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire was already the beneficiary of massive preseason hype, coming off the board as a top-15 running back without a full offseason to work with his new team and no guarantee of a starter’s workload. He was an early fade for me despite his talent because he was being drafted at his absolute peak under his old predicament. However, as the predicament changed, so did his peak. Now in line for the lion’s share of the carries in Kansas City, Edwards-Helaire jumped into my top-10 running backs. I’d spend a second-round pick on the rookie out of LSU, but given how trendy of a pick he was before Wednesday, he won’t make it out of the first round in the majority of leagues.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how his workload and fantasy production changes.
My original projection for Edwards-Helaire was 146 rushing attempts, 642 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns. In the receiving game, I had him pegged for 60 targets, 46 receptions, 413 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns. Sprinkle in a couple of fumbles lost, and you got a projection of 195.5 PPR points over 16 games (or 12.2 points per week). That’s a damn good rookie season, but I had him as my RB22 instead of his RB14 ADP. To oversimplify it, I viewed Edwards-Helaire’s potential rookie season like LeSean McCoy’s under Andy Reid when many viewed Kareem Hunt’s rookie year as the better comp.
As for Williams, his projection was 110 rushing attempts, 484 rushing yards, and five rushing touchdowns, not including his 48 targets, 39 receptions, 264 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in the passing game. Williams’ projection was over 13 games, due to his injury history. Given the preceding information, there are 110 carries and 48 targets now up for grabs in the Chiefs’ offense. How will they be distributed?
It’s not as easy as giving all that production to Edwards-Helaire. That simply isn’t realistic. So how can we reasonably divvy up Williams’ workload? To start, it’ll likely be split between Edwards-Helaire, the returning Darwin Thompson, and free-agent signing DeAndre Washington. I expect Edwards-Helaire and Washington to each add 40 carries to their plate, with the remaining 30 going to Thompson. In the receiving game, I think we’ll see a few less passes to running backs in general, so let’s add an equal split of 20 targets to both Edwards-Helaire and Thompson’s plate with those other eight targets going elsewhere in the offense. While the additional workload jumps both Washington and Thompson into the top 70 running backs, the real riser, obviously, is the rookie.
Edwards-Helaire’s new projection based on his new workload is 186 rushing attempts, 61 receptions, 1,369 total yards, and 10 total touchdowns. It’s not Hunt’s rookie season, but it’s damn good. The 253.9 projected PPR points slot him at No. 10 in my RB rankings and No. 15 in my overall Top 200.
It’s going to be arguably the toughest season to be a rookie in recent NFL history because of the severely abridged offseason program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is no rookie in a better situation or a better offense to succeed than Edwards-Helaire. A player who was once a risk because of his high ADP looks now like a potential fantasy MVP.