There’s a certain mystique that follows Maxx Williams wherever he goes. Whether it is the mesmerizing sleeve tattoo that envelops his upper arm, or the second X that still has scholars perplexed, he’s built somewhat of a cult following in my own head. From his easy release to his Cirque du Soleil style sideline catches, smooth is the most apt word to describe the former Golden Gopher.
He presses a defense from the moment he saunters off the line, using galloping strides to create a cushion between himself and the defense and offering a nice throwing window. He’s a great hands catcher, displaying sticky mitts and a natural ability to let the ball soften as it hits his hands. He may be one of the league’s better run after catch tight ends from day one. Despite not possessing elite athleticism, he can accelerate in a hurry with the ball in his hands and uses subtle maneuvers to evade defenders in space. He’s very adept at using his body to shield defenders in redzone or jump ball situations, though he may not have the hulking size to do this consistently at the NFL level.
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Route running is a learned art and Williams can occasionally look like a recreational league softball player rounding the bases as he peels and curls on his routes. Part of this is due to the offensive system he played in at Minnesota, which was a run-heavy offense that required great improvisation skill with scattershot Mitch Leidner under center. But this is an area in which he will need to improve – time and space are scarce in the NFL.
He’s also neither a giant tight end, nor one with elite physical traits. Tweeners can sometimes have a hard time finding their place in the NFL. I value his other skills highly enough to believe in him despite those warts, but it is cause for genuine concern when assessing his long-term viability.
Were you script the plush landing spots for Williams pre-draft, few would have topped Baltimore. Dennis Pitta’s future is murky at best, and Marc Trestman made good use out of Martellus Bennett during his tenure in Chicago. Both the short-term and long-term opportunities in Baltimore are immense. Joe Flacco briefly propped Pitta into TE1 territory and even made Owen Daniels a roster-worthy player for much of 2014. If Williams fails, it will not be because he is buried on the depth chart.
The Ravens are not only thin at tight end – they lack an inspiring depth chart at receiver as well. While Steve Smith is still rocking it weekly, he recently turned 36, and Breshad Perriman is an unproven commodity at the other receiver spot. There should be ample targets for a move tight end like Williams, and if Perriman develops into the deep threat Baltimore is hoping for, he could be absolutely lethal over the middle of the field. Even if other pass catchers such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown show growth, Williams figures to be a fixture of the passing attack.
There’s little reason to expect immediate returns on Williams, if only because tight ends seldom do much of anything in year one. He’s not a transcendent talent, and the Ravens have established veterans on offense to do the heavy lifting year one. It would be surprising if he even flirted with the redraft radar during his rookie campaign.
If you’re investing in a rookie tight end, you’re doing so with the long-term outlook in mind. Williams and the aforementioned Breshad Perriman figure to be long-term staples of the Baltimore offense. The Ravens are one of the more stable organizations in the league, which bodes well for any athlete’s long-term prognosis. The question of whether or not Joe Flacco is elite in this regard is irrelevant; he’s capable of propping up multiple receivers in a passing offense, and tight ends are not as tied to quarterback play as receivers. There are plenty of reasons to be bullish long-term.
I’m not a fan of stylistic player comparisons, so I will take a different tact with this topic. In terms of his fantasy impact, I’d view Williams as having a Greg Olsen type of career. That entails numerous seasons of TE1 production, along with the potential for a few top five finishes. He has an almost perfect confluence of talent and opportunity, which should allow him to reach his ceiling pretty quickly.
Rookie Draft Advice
Many owners are recalcitrant of spending an early pick on tight ends in rookie drafts, due to the patience it takes to wait for production. I am not one of those owners. The dynasty tight end landscape is a wasteland and Williams has the rare opportunity to become a weekly, locked and loaded TE1 in time. I am targeting him ahead of second-tier talents such as Jaelen Strong and David Johnson, as I see his positional value as far exceeding many of the rookies with a higher ADP. Even with his value likely to fall after year one, like many tight ends, and the long wait, I’d be excited to nab Williams early in Round 2.