Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Which Cadillac Williams will show up this season: the 2005 or the 2006 model?
So you thought you were purchasing a Cadillac last season and you wound up with a lemon. I feel your pain. Now, you've sworn off Carnell -- you'll never call him Cadillac again -- Williams due to how nonproductive he was for your squad last season. Seriously, one rushing touchdown? Ron freakin' Dayne had five! Are we being too emotional in demoting the Jalopy Williams into the fourth round of this year's draft? Let's do some research.
First, let's compare Carnell Williams' first two seasons:
Now, let's compare the situations surrounding both seasons.
Williams' rookie season was almost exactly what the Bucs expected when they chose him in the first round of the NFL draft. He displayed solid skills in all facets of his game: running inside, running outside, solid blitz pickup, red zone efficiency and good enough hands in the receiving game to keep defenses honest. Year 2 saw some rather dramatic declines across the board, but can we evaluate why?
You should know that Williams suffered through back spasms for a significant portion of last season. While most of us would like to dismiss this as a reason for a decline in production, we should remember that while he only missed two games, he did miss practice. Since one of the prime factors for success is proper preparation, let's not totally dismiss this injury. It definitely had an impact on his numbers last season.
Next, you could point to any number of statistics that would show that the Buccaneers quarterback play last season was nothing short of abysmal. However, here's one stat that I'm going to guess that most readers have never seen. The Bucs converted passing plays into first downs just 24.9 percent of the time. That number represents a 25 percent reduction in the previous season's 33.1 percent conversion statistic. This is huge. That reduction in performance in the passing game means fewer first-down opportunities, which in turn reduces the number of rush attempts available. If you want to understand just how much of an impact this metric actually has, only one of the top 10 offenses last season was not in the top 15 of this statistic. That team? The Chicago Bears, who were not exactly known as the model of offensive efficiency.
Can we expect this statistic to turn around this season? I think so. Jeff Garcia manned the Philadelphia Eagles to a top-10 performance in this statistic last season, posting a 34.7 percent success ratio. More first downs equals more opportunities. If we assume that Garcia will only lift the Bucs back to their 2005 level of production, it's not a stretch to expect Williams to once again carry the ball almost 300 times.
Continuing, as pointed out in my recent article about the current fantasy value of Joseph Addai, NFL running backs who rush for 1,000 yards in their rookie season usually see their yards per carry drop 7 percent in their second season. If we assume that Williams would have seen that average drop, his yards per carry would have been 3.7 last season. Why this happens, I can't tell you. Perhaps it's better scouting from divisional opponents; maybe it's complacency on the player's part. For us, we should only care that it happens and that we need to accept it until the trend begins to reverse, so at least a portion of Williams' decline should have been expected. For that same group of running backs, we should note that their Year 3 performances resulted in yards-per-carry averages of 95 percent of their rookie seasons. This leads to an expectation of 3.8 yards per carry for Williams during the 2007 campaign.
Finally, we need to evaluate the potential for Williams to score touchdowns. Regardless of how you feel about last season, I don't think there's a reasonable person alive that can argue that the loss of touchdown vulture Mike Alstott isn't a positive for Williams, in terms of actually receiving carries inside the 5. Alstott's blocking will be missed, but the bump Williams receives from getting almost all of those carries offsets that loss.
What should we expect from Williams this season? Based on these factors, I'm projecting 300 carries, 1,140 yards rushing, six touchdowns, 25 catches and 145 yards receiving. Those stats will slide nicely into either your RB2 or flex spot of your fantasy lineup. Yes, sir, Cadillac is back.
Ken Daube is a senior columnist for talentedmroto.com and fantasy football expert for espn.com. You can email him at KenDaube@talentedmrroto.com