Rostering running back handcuffs isn’t always the optimal strategy in fantasy football. Sometimes, you might hold onto a backup RB for an entire season without ever getting any value from him. But when the starting RB for one of the NFL’s top offenses goes down with an injury, it’s time to take a peek at the depth chart and make a roster move. With Clyde Edwards-Helaire sidelined, Darrel Williams is set to see increased carries for the Chiefs. But is he the RB1 in Kansas City, and should you pick him up off the waiver wire?
Darrel Williams’ fantasy outlook with CEH injured
No one likes to see injuries in fantasy football. Ideally, every NFL player would stay healthy for the entire season — but that’s never going to happen. And when injuries strike, fantasy managers need to take decisive action to shore up their rosters. We’ve had the opportunity to pick up other backup running backs already this season.
Damien Williams, Alex Collins, and Samaje Perine have each commanded FAAB in anticipation of large roles. But aside from Alexander Mattison, there may not have been another RB with both the projected role and offensive environment in which Williams now finds himself.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Edwards-Helaire has a sprained MCL and will miss a “few” weeks. RapSheet added that CEH’s injury is not quite as serious as it appeared on Sunday Night Football when the third-year back required help to get off the field and subsequently hobbled to the locker room. But as we plan to add Williams, we can feel secure that he’ll be receiving an increased workload for at least the next 2-3 weeks.
Darrell Williams’ role was already improving
Given his status as a handcuff in the explosive Chiefs offense, Williams perhaps should’ve already been rostered more heavily than he currently is (just 17% in Yahoo leagues). Not only was he primed to receive more action if CEH went down, but Williams had already been garnering more playing time and touches in recent weeks.
Williams saw only 4 total rush attempts and 0 targets through the first two weeks of the season. But after Edwards-Helaire fumbled away a potential victory for the Chiefs against the Ravens in Week 2, Williams’ touch share began to steadily increase. In Weeks 3-5, Williams received 10, 12, and 10 respective opportunities (carries plus targets). His playing time went from 34% to 36% to 43% during that stretch.
After CEH went down against the Bills on Sunday night, Williams out-snapped fellow running back Jerick McKinnon 37-27. Williams also received 5 touches to McKinnon’s 1. The Chiefs have clearly always liked Williams after signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2018. He played 25% of the club’s offensive snaps in both 2019 and 2020.
Williams was largely the Chiefs’ RB1 when CEH went down in 2020
Edwards-Helaire missed several games during his rookie campaign in 2020, and for the most part, Williams stepped in as Kansas City’s clear RB1. To be fair, that wasn’t the case when CEH sat out with an illness in Week 12. In that game, Le’Veon Bell split carries nearly evenly with Williams as the Chiefs defeated the Broncos.
But when Edwards-Helaire was forced to miss Week 16 and Kansas City’s first playoff game, Williams stepped in and dominated snaps. Facing the Falcons in that Week 16 matchup, Williams played 70% of KC’s offensive reps. He rushed 10 times for 46 yards and caught 4 passes for 27 yards. In the postseason game, Williams managed 79% playing time, 13 rush attempts for 78 yards, and 4 receptions for 16 yards.
Jerick McKinnon looms in the Chiefs’ backfield
So why isn’t Williams a clear-cut, alpha RB1 for the next few weeks? He certainly could be, but McKinnon might stand in his way. There’s little chance the Chiefs simply deploy McKinnon over Williams and allow the former Vikings/49ers RB to handle the majority of the touches. But it’s possible McKinnon plays just enough — especially on passing downs — to reduce Williams’ overall fantasy impact.
McKinnon was extremely athletic coming out of Georgia Southern, placing in the 90th percentile or better in nearly every athletic testing metric. He’s certainly a better athlete than Williams. Unfortunately, McKinnon posted those combine numbers way back in 2014, before he tore his ACL and suffered subsequent setbacks. He’s also three years older than Williams — you don’t need me to tell you about the volatility attached to any 29-year-old running back.
Should you grab Williams off waivers?
Williams should be one of the top fantasy football waiver priorities in advance of Week 6. Devontae Booker, who will replace Saquon Barkley for several weeks, is the other contender for this week’s top addition. While Booker may have less competition in New York, he’s also playing in a far worse offense.
Williams is never going to be a 20-carry, bellcow running back — especially not while Kansas City remains one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL. But you should always be willing to use your waiver priority or 20-30% of your FAAB to land the presumed RB1 in Kansas City’s offense. Even if you don’t need Williams immediately, you can trade him to the manager who just lost CEH.