Hey, somebody's gotta catch passes for the Carolina Panthers. Why can't Brandon Williams become a reliable target?
The 26-year-old tight end was one of the more impressive performers in the Buffalo Bills' 20-18 win over the Panthers on Friday night. He caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. His 31-yard touchdown brought Carolina within two points with a little over a minute-and-a-half left in the game, but a failed two-point conversion gave Buffalo the win.
One of the biggest stories surrounding the Panthers was the mass exodus they've see at wideout. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. are all gone, leaving Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant as the team's top three wideouts, according to Ourlads.com.
Cam Newton's not gonna throw 40-50 times a game, but the Panthers do need some sort of aerial presence. Without many top targets, the door is wide open for somebody like Williams to parlay a strong preseason into an increased role in the offense during the regular season.
The real question is, does he possibly have any fantasy value for the upcoming season?
The short answer is not really, at least right now.
The long answer is that he's one of those fringe players you'll have to watch for the rest of the preseason. If your draft isn't for another few weeks, Williams is certainly worth putting on your draft board and monitoring up until the regular season. He could potentially be a sleeper pick at tight end.
Williams is such an interesting case because he's been forced to almost relearn how to play football all over again. Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com detailed the 26-year-old's journey from being forced to walk away from the game because of injury in 2010 to joining Carolina last year.
He spent most of 2013 growing accustomed to an NFL offense. With that experience, he's in a position to make much more of an impact on the field in 2014.
"Last year I was way behind, having been out of football for two years. So having a year of experience has really helped me develop," Williams said. "Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'm willing to do it. I just try to go in every day with an open mind and listen to what they say and work on everything they want me to work on."
The coaches are giving him a serious shot this preseason. According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Williams took the most snaps of any Carolina player:
Panthers TE Brandon Williams played 56 snaps Friday, more than anyone else on the field— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) August 10, 2014
No matter how good Williams is in the coming weeks, though, he'll almost certainly fail to overtake Greg Olsen as the starting tight end, which limits his fantasy upside somewhat. NFL.com's Michael Fabiano listed Olsen as the ninth-best fantasy TE this year:
You might not know it, but Olsen has finished among the 10 best tight ends in fantasy football three times in the last five seasons. That includes a 2013 campaign that saw him finish with 816 yards and career bests in receptions and fantasy points. Consider Olsen a mid- to low-end fantasy starter.
Backup tight ends can be valuable fantasy assets, especially in this case. Williams could carve out a spot where he's consistently getting a few looks every week.
But don't be expecting him to have a Julius Thomas-like ascent this year, mostly because Olsen's standing in his way.
At the moment, Williams isn't worth selecting unless you're in a really deep league with a ton of teams. Don't try to be the smartest guy the room.
Down the line, Williams could grow into a high-upside TE2. Make sure you'd have a consistent starter, though, as security in case the Panthers TE remains on the bench and doesn't see much of the field.