Depth Chart Battle: Jameson Williams vs. D.J. Chark (Fantasy Football)
Over the last decade, the Detroit Lions have been the laughing stock of the NFL. However, the tide is turning and the Detroit front office has been steadily building a strong roster. For years fans from Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota have been punching down, now it's time for Lions fans to rise up. Detroit's young offensive line is considered one of the best heading into the 2022 season; ranking in the top 5 on 4for4’s 2022 Offensive Line Rankings. Additionally, there is a plethora of talent at the skill positions such as D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson, and the recent emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown.
One thing that the Lions have been lacking since the departure of Kenny Golladay is a deep threat to stretch the field. Entering the 2022 season there are two players looking to fill that role - rookie Jameson Williams, and former Jacksonville Jaguar, D.J. Chark.
Although Jared Goff is more viewed as a game manager at this point in his career and not someone who likes to air it out, not too long ago he ranked top-10 in air yards per game (2018). When given time and a sound supporting cast, Goff can chuck it. There were some glaring holes in the Lions’ offense in 2021. Goff ranked in the bottom half of the league in time to throw and as a result, he was dead last amongst QBs in air yards per pass attempt.
*Includes QBs with at least 200 pass attempts. Data from playerprofiler.com
With Detroit’s offensive line improving (as mentioned above) and the additions to the wide receiver room, Jared Goff should have more opportunities to push the ball down the field. This means more deep targets for WRs and more fantasy points for fantasy managers.
Jameson Williams (Underdog ADP: 140.6, WR65)
When addressing this depth chart battle there is going to be a special emphasis on injuries because Jameson Williams tore his ACL during the College Football National Championship game on January 2nd, 2022. As a result of this injury, the Lion’s first-round draft pick was placed on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) List (since his injury happened in college) and is not expected to participate in training camp. Based on when Williams had surgery his timeline suggests that he likely won’t be available till halfway through the season, if not later. This lack of availability in Williams' rookie campaign is reflected in his 4for4 Projection of only 128 fantasy points.
I outline William’s ACL recovery in more depth in the 4for4 Injury Profile: WRs Post-ACL Tears but it simply comes down to not expecting him to be available early in the season and the fact that traditionally rookie WRs have struggled in Year 1 when they are recovering from a major injury - especially when they miss training camp. Some recent examples of this include:
- Jalen Reagor 2020: shoulder labral tear in late August. Reagor was able to start the season but got off to a slow start before getting injured again.
- Denzel Mims 2020: hamstring strain sustained in training camp. Mims had to start the season on Injured Reserve (IR). When he returned he failed to crest 100 yards or score more than 11 PPR points.
- Rashod Bateman 2021: Injured his core/groin in training camp and needed surgery. Bateman also had to start the season on IR. From his arrival to the end of the season Bateman finished as the WR47, averaging only 8.6 points per game.
There is no doubting Williams' immense upside. At Alabama last season, Williams ranked top-5 amongst Power-5 players in average yards per reception at 19.9 ypr and scored 15 touchdowns. He is the definition of a big play waiting to happen and could easily slide into the deep threat in the Detroit passing game. But for right now the former Crimson Tide wideout is not practicing, therefore he is not competing and until he is cleared to do so, fantasy managers and Lions fans alike are going to have to wait.
D.J. Chark (Underdog ADP: 155.2 , WR71)
Going even later in drafts than Jameson Williams is D.J. Chark and it’s somewhat understandable he burned fantasy managers the past two seasons. Chark was one of the biggest busts in 2020 finishing outside the top-45 WRs and only played four games in 2021 prior to breaking his ankle.
However, looking back at Chark’s prominent 2019 season, he was the field stretcher that the Lions have been looking to add to their offense. The then Jaguar, ranked 15th in deep targets, which is the epitome of a field stretcher. In 2020 Josh Reynolds led the team with 75 air yards per game. Over his career, Chark has never averaged lower than 85. He should be a clear upgrade to anything the Lions roll out opposite of St. Brown.
|Player||Air Yards Per Game||Deep Targets||Average Depth of Target (aDot)|
And it would appear Chark's transition into this role with his new team has been smooth. Early training camp reports proclaim that Chark is currently practicing with the first team offense. Colton Pouncy from the Athletic even got this quote from Goff when talking about Chark’s role in the offense:
“He’s a guy we’d like to push the ball down the field with and hit him up over the top.”
Sure a lot of training camp buzz can be mistaken as fluff, in this situation Chark has demonstrated that he is competent in the field stretching role, he is currently meshing in this position and unlike Jameson Willaims, he is healthy and practicing.
Who Should You Draft?
If you have not been able to tell based on my player outlines, D.J. Chark would be the player I recommend drafting in redraft leagues. He currently is going much later than Jameson Williams and depending on what platform you use for fantasy football, is sometimes going undrafted.
Unlike Williams, fantasy gamers are going to get to at least see what D.J. Chark looks like in the Lions’ offense. Worst case scenario if he is not returning any value, you will be able to cut him loose and move on. The investment was minimal based on ADP. On the other hand, Jameson Williams is going to clog up your bench and IR to start the season and leave you less flexible to maneuver on the waiver wire.
There is substantial data to support Chark operating successfully as a deep threat in the NFL. If you are a Detroit Lions' stan in 2022, then Chark is worth a flier in the later rounds.