Jameson Williams Fantasy Football Draft Value

Brutal luck for Jameson Williams. The top wide receiver prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft tore his ACL playing in the College Football Championship Game for Alabama.

It’s reasonable to be skeptical of Williams’s doctors publicly stating that he’s going to get back to his sub-4.3 speed. Are they being honest or mostly having their patient’s back?

In this case, probably both.

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ACL Recovery

Wide receivers after ACL tears tend to lose a step in the initial return, but gain it back over the course of their first 12-18 months after surgery. We saw Odell Beckham Jr. this year put up strong numbers about a year after his ACL injury (timing confounded by the trade to the Rams dynamite offense). Rams teammate and now record-holder Cooper Kupp is three years removed from his surgery and clearly thriving as a star wide receiver.

The take-home message is that young players in their prime tend to recover, and without much lasting deficit from ACL surgery. The injury is associated with shorter careers and fewer total games played over the course of NFL careers, but that effect is also less drastic in first-round draft picks, like Williams projects to be.

So when will we see Jameson Williams back? Probably not in time for the start of the season. The earliest realistic return timetables are in the 8-9 month range, but given his young age and large draft capital investment it’ll take to acquire him, it would be a shocker to see anyone try to rush Jameson Williams back to the field.

Instead, we’d expect this to be closer to the average for wide receivers in our database – 10 months – and perhaps longer. That would push Williams into November around week 10 before making his debut. Factor in a game or two to test the waters before he hits your starting lineup, and you’re realistically able to count on him for about 1/3 of your 2022 fantasy season.

Fantasy Takeaway

Now the interesting question becomes what will happen to Williams’ draft stock going forward. NFL draft guru Todd McShay says that Williams is still the top receiver in this year’s NFL draft. Former quarterback turned NBC analyst Chris Simms describes Williams’s route-running as superior to Jerry Jeudy, and Mel Kiper Jr. says that Jameson was a guaranteed top-10 pick prior to going down with the ACL.

The talent is undeniable, and the player couldn’t be more compelling. It’s hard to imagine that 1,600 yards, 19 yards per catch, and 15 touchdowns against the best college defenses in the country not translating to the modern NFL. Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson are the most recent SEC rookies to enter the draft with similar college stats, and we all know how their debut seasons turned out.

But wide receiver is a heavily dependent position. The quarterback must be competent, the offensive line must pass protect for long enough to let routes develop, and there have to be other offensive threats to prevent defenses from locking in on a single pass-catcher. With that in mind, this ACL tear may ironically increase Williams’s value once he comes back to the field. Kiper Jr. and most other high-level draft analysts project Williams to be selected towards the end of the first round. Who typically picks there? Good teams with strong quarterbacks and solid offensive systems.

There are tons of possibilities here, but Green Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo and New England have been amongst the most commonly proposed landing spots based on positional need, draft slot, and ammo to trade up. Any of those teams – and ESPECIALLY the first three – makes Jameson Williams a star the instant he steps on the field.

Dynasty owners, you need to keep this man at the top of your target list. Patience for ~3 months of the upcoming season could very realistically be rewarded with 10 years of top-10 production. Re-draft teams with a keeper slot, generous roster limits, and/or an IR spot should similarly be on the lookout for Jameson Williams at the top of their late-round selection list. Unless the people who make a living analyzing NFL prospects are ALL wrong, there’s a strong chance Williams is producing Pro Bowl numbers in an effective offense during fantasy playoff season.

The only way I don’t want Jameson Williams is if my roster size is small and I’m drafting with only this year in mind. Otherwise, I strongly suspect that the rest of the fantasy community is about to undervalue this stud.

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