Doug Martin has received all of the praise for all of his running and pass catching and tackle dodging last night. He deserves your words and admiration, because his 214 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns — which included a 64-yard score on a screen pass when he showcased impressive breakaway speed — did more than just collect 32 fantasy points for his owners.
What’s even more important is that if there was still any lingering doubt about who was the lead RB in Tampa’s backfield between the rookie first-round pick and LeGarrette Blount, it was violently crushed Thursday night. So keep sporadically thrusting your fist high into the air, Martin owners, and don’t inform your co-workers about the motivation behind your spontaneous action.
But I’m more interested in the continued uprising of a Bucs wide receiver who isn’t named Vincent Jackson.
Last year Mike Williams did more than just regress after an impressive rookie season when he caught 65 passes for 964 yards, and he particularly excelled in the red zone during his first season with 11 touchdown receptions. To be fair, the entire Bucs offense tumbled swiftly and quite inexplicably last year, which led to Raheem Morris’ exit, and eventually the hiring of Greg Schiano and his kneel down douchiness.
But Williams’ fall was particularly glaring, because while we can blame his drop in yardage on the offense’s overall ineptitude (he had 771 yards despite finishing with 65 receptions again, and his +20 yard receptions were cut in half, going from 18 to nine), the lingering lack of one central ability for a wide receiver’s success was a little terrifying. Namely, he forgot how to do the receiving part of being a receiver.
Drops aren’t an official stat, so the recorded number of drops by a wide receiver in a given season can be inconsistent. But reputable sites like Pro Football Focus that chart drops have documented Williams’ difficulty with grasping a football even during his otherwise successful rookie season. In 2010 he had 11 drops, and last year he had at least seven, according to, um, Mike Williams.
So his stock tumbled, and quite understandably. He went undrafted in most ESPN leagues, with the prevailing wisdom at the time being that Vincent Jackson would dominate targets. That’s been sort of true, with Jackson averaging four more targets per game. But it hasn’t held Williams back, as he’s now re-emerged.
Once available as a quality waiver wire add, despite being ignored in drafts Williams’ ownership has now climbed to about 80 percent in both ESPN and Yahoo leagues, and last night he had 68 yards on six receptions with a touchdown. Williams was also targeted 10 times by Josh Freeman during Tampa’s win over Minnesota, while Jackson had six looks. That slight but still significant edge that led to only two receptions for Jackson may have been a product of the veteran’s calf injury that had him listed as probable, or it could have been an acknowledgement of Williams’ rise.
Williams only had three touchdowns last year, and with four this season he’s already eclipsed that mark with over half of the year still remaining (the Bucs had their bye in Week 5, and have played seven games). What’s most encouraging though is his growing presence as a down-field threat. Over his first two seasons Williams only had three receptions for 40 yards or more, and he’s already matched that mark this year. Even better, two of his long catches went for more than 60 yards, boosting his per catch average to 17.4 after it hovered at 11.9 last year.
Overall he has 543 receiving yards, putting him on pace for 1,241 after he averaged just 34.6 yards over Tampa’s first three games, and he’s since trended upwards at a clip of 83 yards weekly. It’s a rise that should continue over at least the next few weeks with the Bucs playing Oakland and San Diego and their combined opposing passer rating of 97.1, and average passing yards allowed at 261.5. But the most appealing aspect of the Bucs’ schedule is another matchup against the Saints during fantasy championship week, and their far more lowly average of 304.5 passing yards allowed per game.
Depending on the depth of your league, Williams is climbing towards consistent WR3 status, or at minimum serious flex play consideration every week.