It was in the cards and only a matter of time.
With Lovie Smith taking over the headset for the Buccaneers and emphasizing team players and high character individuals, it was only a matter of where Mike Williams would eventually end up. Now back to together with his collegiate coach, Doug Marrone, and in a city where NFL receivers go to die, Williams will make yet another attempt to get his life turned around and focus on football.
Williams has always had a WR2 talent and nearly amassed 1,000 yards on two occasions, first as a rookie in 2010 followed by a near-miss in 2012, falling just four yards short that year. In those two seasons, he managed a total of 20 touchdowns as well. Clearly he has the talent to be a difference maker in fantasy leagues. He also clearly has the character to find himself suspended or out of the league completely if he can’t keep his nose clean. Whether stemming from immature behavior or recklessness of those around him, Williams always seems to finds his way into the headlines and continues to flirt with a suspension nearly every season. Thus far in 2014, it appears as though he’s dodged another bullet but now must find his way on a new team and within a system that doesn’t produce much intrigue for the receiver position.
There have been rumors the Bills may release or trade veteran receiver Stevie Johnson if they managed to land a bigger name in trade or use their ninth overall selection on draft day for a young receiver such as Sammy Watkins or, more likely, Mike Evans. With young receiver Robert Woods in the fold, the Bills are in need of a bigger presence. Williams is similarly sized to that of Johnson (6’2″/212), but likely isn’t the acquisition that would lead to his release.
All indications are Williams has fully recovered from the hamstring injury that ended his 2013 campaign. Whether or not he’s able to overcome his other demons is yet to be seen. Truth be told, though, he has always been one of my favorite players at the position, quietly putting up respectable numbers as a high-upside WR3. I usually steer clear of character-flagged players, but I’ve made an exception for Williams. Now in Buffalo, I’m far less excited about his prospects.
Let’s break down the situation further and focus on other players whose values have been affected:
E.J. Manuel, QB BUF
Manuel has a tenuous hold on the starting quarterback position and there have been rumors the Buffalo brass may seek an upgrade in the draft. With a greater need at tight end and receiver, I think it’s likely the Bills will tab a young wideout with their ninth overall selection. More weapons certainly wouldn’t hurt Manuel’s prospects, but he’ll need to make progress regardless of who he is throwing to come September. Williams, if combined with Johnson and Woods in three-receiver sets, could make for an under-the-radar young receiver trio, but we will withhold any bold predictions until we see something tangible.
Stevie Johnson, WR BUF
As mentioned previously, Johnson was rumored to be on his way out of Buffalo either via trade or acquisition of a younger receiver via the draft. His status is still clearly up in the air and only the Buffalo coaching staff knows what their intentions are at this juncture. Johnson is still only 27 years old and has the size and dynamic to be a valuable WR2 in the right situation. In Buffalo, however, yardage production fell below the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in four years and his touchdowns have decreased every year during that span. He clearly needs an upgraded offense to realize any resurgence.
Robert Woods, WR BUF
Woods failed to impress in 2013, but showed signs of NFL potential. In his rookie year, he compiled 40 receptions, 587 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. He’ll remain a key piece to the ongoing youth movement in Buffalo and a more productive 2014 should be on tap. He’s a pure WR3 play at best until he can break through the ice of Buffalo’s offense, a task few have been able to accomplish. The acquisition of Williams shouldn’t threaten his play count and could open up crossing patterns toward more quality receptions.
T.J. Graham, WR BUF
Graham has a little T.Y. Hilton in him and I’ve watched from afar to see if he could realize the same level of production. As it stands, it doesn’t look likely, due more to the offensive system and quarterback play, that Graham will rise to any level of prominence in 2014. As a smaller slot-receiver type of player, it will take the right mix of talent around him to find space and be productive. Buffalo just isn’t a situation that can make fantasy stars out of smaller players like Graham in all but the rarest of situations.
Marquise Goodwin, WR BUF
The only other receiver of note on the roster is that of Goodwin. The burner is more of a player in the mold of Devin Hester and isn’t a threat for anything more than the WR4 role in four-wide sets, with his purpose to stretch the field vertically. Williams will not threaten his role in this case.
Scott Chandler, TE BUF
Chandler is back in Buffalo after not receiving a better offer elsewhere. He’s a middling player to be started primarily in emergency situations only. Look for the Bills to address the position at 1.09 (Eric Ebron) or 2.09 (Jace Amaro) during the NFL draft if the opportunity presents itself. I’ll be shocked if Chandler is the opening day starter.
Fantasy leaguers are getting tired and impatient waiting for C.J. Spiller to realize his potential. Any receiver additions who can stretch the field or increase passing yardage totals will open up more space for both Spiller and Fred Jackson. Like most other offensive situations in Buffalo, we’ll believe it when we see it.
The move of Williams opens up a couple of options for the Bucs. Veteran receiver Louis Murphy is now in town and has a dynamic similar to that of Williams. Youngster Chris Owusu is similarly sized and, while slow to develop during his previous two years, will have a shot to compete. More intriguing is just what the Bucs will do with their selection in the draft. With Sammy Watkins likely to be off the board by this selection, they’re in position to take the second best receiver on most boards, that of Mike Evans. Evans would provide immediate size to the offense and should be penciled in as a day-one starter if selected. The Bucs also have other needs and may delay a receiver selection until the second round, targeting such names as Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams or Jordan Matthews.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff