Mining for 2011 Fantasy Football Hidden Gems: Stephen Williams

Last season the Arizona Cardinals tried to cover a bullet hole with a band aid in replacing retired Kurt Warner with Derek Anderson (who coincidentally shot blanks all season).  When Anderson wasn’t yucking it up on the sideline, and taking snaps from under center as the starter, the Cardinals turned to undrafted rookie free agent Max Hall and 5th round pick John Skelton.  Unsurprisingly, the passing game was an absolute wreck.  Even otherworldy superstar Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t spared from a dropoff in production as he caught just six touchdown passes, his lowest total since 2006.  Beyond Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston was the next closest thing to a viable fantasy option at the wide receiver position for the Cardinals but he only compiled 718 yards on 47 receptions and one touchdown making even that assessment a stretch.  With the light at the end of the tunnel in sight for the lockout, or so it seems, one thing is a fairly safe bet, the Cardinals will be seeking a new signal caller this year.  Count them in amongst the teams interested in acquiring the services of Kevin Kolb if you buy into the rumor mill, which in this instance makes a great deal of sense.  The latest rumor, according to National Football Postper Yahoo!, is that the Cardinals intend on offering Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie straight up for Kolb.  Regardless of who is heading the offense, it’s a near certainty that they’ll improve a passing offense that couldn’t have been much worse last season.

Breaston is expected to be a free agent when the dust settles and a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, leaving the aforementioned Fitzgerald, Early Doucet, Andre Roberts and Stephen Williams as the potential beneficiaries.  Doucet has largely been disappointing and injury plagued throughout his career, and no one is sleeping on Fitzgerald who will fly off the board in the first two rounds of nearly all drafts.  The two most interesting names in the list are Roberts and Williams.  Roberts was a third round pick last season out of Citadel and put together one 100 yard effort, and was the third leading receiver for the squad with 307 yards (perhaps the greatest indictment of last season’s pass offense, or lack thereof).  A sleeper in his own right, he is less intriguing to me than 6-5 and 208 pound Williams.

An undrafted rookie free agent out of Toledo, the school’s all-time leading receiver, turned some heads last preseason catching 11 balls for  187 yards and hauling in one touchdown for good measure.  While preseason numbers mean squat, and he was unable to carry that success over to the regular season, when taken into consideration with his college production, his large frame, and his 4.48 timed forty-yard dash at the NFL Combine, he becomes a player worth dreaming a bit on.  Not a lock to even make the squad, Williams has the benefit of having been in the offense last year as opposed to anyone else they could bring in.  It’s also not hard to see how having two large receivers could create matchup nightmares in the red-zone for opposing defensive coordinators and secondaries.  If everything breaks right, he could rise as high as the second starting wide receiver opposite Fitgerald and the number two option in the passing game.  Those in non-PPR leagues, and leagues that don’t value yardage particularly heavily should pay special attention to how things shake out, as even in a limited role he could be a source of touchdowns if he becomes the wide receiver equivalent of a goal-line vulture.  Williams won’t cost more than a last round pick, and can even be passed over and monitored from a distance in the early going in almost all leagues, but remember this name when football activities pick back up.

Josh Shepardson also writes for both the Fantasy Baseball Cafe and Fantasy Football Cafe as well as The Hardball Times.  You can find Josh here on Twitter if you too enjoy communicating in 140 characters or less.