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High-profile skill position players miss games due to injury every week in the NFL. Whether they are downgraded to OUT early in the week or deactivated close to game time, navigating weekly injuries is an unfortunate, yet necessary, aspect of managing a fantasy football team. While injuries to irreplaceable stud players, such as Arian Foster and Julius Thomas, can ultimately neuter a fantasy squad, opportunistic fantasy buzzards can capitalize on them.
When Andre Ellington and Torrey Smith missed week 14, it provided an opportunity for two relatively unknown players to receive meaningful snaps and become fantasy-relevant: Kerwynn Williams and Kamar Aiken.
It can take many years for undrafted players such as Joique Bell, Fred Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Wes Welker to become relevant fantasy options. Though a handful of these outliers do eventually ascend, undrafted running backs and wide receivers are rarely valuable fantasy assets. Last week, however, Kerwynn Williams and Kamar Aiken each posted top-25 fantasy performances. Is their productivity sustainable for the remainder of the season and beyond?
Kerwynn Williams is not a big back, but running back size matters less than it used to. Unlike prototypical situational scat backs such as Antone Smith and De’Anthony Thomas who never demonstrated an ability to handle every-down work at the college or professional level, Kerwynn Williams’ 35.7-percent College Dominator Rating (75th percentile) at Utah State proved that he could win between the tackles, on the outside, and in the passing game.
Interestingly, Kerwynn Williams’ does not win with pure athleticism. His workout metrics on PlayerProfiler.com are as follows:
40-time: 4.48 (62nd percentile)
Speed Score: 96.8 (43rd percentile)
Burst Score: 118.5 (43rd percentile)
Agility Score: 11.30 (46th percentile)
Athleticism Score: 99.1 (40th percentile)
Lacking outstanding measurables, most were surprised when Kerwynn Williams quickly ascended the Arizona Cardinals’ speed-deficient depth chart in the wake of Andre Ellington‘s season-ending hernia injury. Regardless, in his first week as the Cardinals’ de facto lead running back, Williams rushed for more yards (100) in a single game than Ellington did all season. Williams then rolled up another 75 rushing yards against the St. Louis Rams this past Thursday.
At 195 pounds, Kerwynn Williams represents an exciting new NFL trend: the every-down scat back. As Matt Freedman explained on a recent RotoUnderworld Radio episode, Kerwynn Williams’ pure speed and proven production as an every-down workhorse at the college level formed the necessary foundation for Williams to become a rare primary NFL ball carrier under 200 pounds.
Looking ahead to week 16, Kerwynn Williams’ playmaking ability and current lead back role make him a worthy flex play. Looking beyond 2014, Williams’ is a sneaky dynasty stash. He is actually faster, and was more productive in college, than Andre Ellington. The Cardinals have proven to be one of the more meritocratic NFL organizations, therefore, it is possible that Williams earns a share of the Cardinals’ 2015 backfield opportunities in tandem with a healthy Andre Ellington. Currently perceived as a mere temporary fill-in, Kerwynn Williams will be relatively inexpensive at the conclusion of the season and a nice target for dynasty league bargain shoppers this winter.
Kamar Aiken‘s circuitous route into an NFL starting lineup is particularly interesting, because Aiken looked like a future NFL wide receiver eight years ago. As a true freshman at the University of Central Florida, Aiken posting 33 receptions for 584 yards and five touchdowns. Few true freshmen are this productive, evidenced by Aiken’s 18.3 Breakout Age (97th percentile among NFL wide receivers), which is now a popular skeleton key for predicting NFL success.
Despite phenomenal production for an 18-year-old wide receiver, Aiken’s collegiate career did not launch like early breakout phenoms Donte Moncrief, Jordan Matthews and Sammy Watkins. Aiken did go on to post 610 yards and nine touchdown in his junior season, but without exceptional college production, he went undrafted and spent time with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots before latching on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.
40-time: 4.50 (62nd percentile)
Height-Adjusted Speed Score (HaSS): 106.3 (81st percentile)
Burst Score: 126.1 (74th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.61 (8th percentile)
Athleticism Score: 104.7 (80th percentile)
On the field, Kamar Aiken sports a 76-percent catch rate and a well-above average contested catch conversion rate. Despite only playing intermittently throughout the season, Joe Flacco has targeted Aiken on over 10-percent of all red zone attempts. In week 14, Flacco’s again targeted Aiken in the end zone, and though the ball was a behind him, Aiken contorted his body to secure the touchdown.
When an 6-foot-2, 215-pound wide receiver is blessed with both explosiveness (evidenced by his 106.3 HaSS and 126.1 Burst Score) and the ability to win in contested catch situations, he has the potential to become a productive NFL starter and weekly fantasy contributor. When you factor in Kamar Aiken’s incredibly young Breakout Age, he is also an intriguing long-term dynasty league asset.
Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.
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