By Brendan Taffe and Nick DaSilva
In this, our first edition of Gridiron Gauntlet, @BCTAFFE and @NickDizzle17 are going to have a friendly debate about who they would rather draft in a .5 PPR dynasty startup as of today: DeVante Parker or Preston Williams. As is customary at Ride or Dynasty, the guys are looking at expected value for the next three years in the format selected. Each writer will make their “case-in-chief” and then be allowed one rebuttal to make their final points after having read their opponents case-in-chief. Then it will be up to the readers to decide who they think made the better case via polls on various platforms. Now that we’ve established the ground rules, let’s get to the debate.
@NickDizzle17: If I am drafting this year in a dynasty startup and choosing between the top two Miami Dolphins receivers I am going with DeVante Parker. I have been a Parker apologist since he came into the league. I loved his draft profile and his opportunity to come into the league and immediately take over as Miami’s WR1. By now, we all know that early in his career DeVante suffered from injury issues and some minor off the field issues that kept him from playing a full 16 games. He is now healthy and appears to have matured significantly as is evident by him playing in all 16 games and 84% of his team’s offensive snaps in 2019.
There was also the major issue of poor quarterback play. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Fitzmagic, but the stable of Dolphins QBs since 2015 (Parker’s rookie year) has been below average at best – Josh Rosen, pre-2019 Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Brock Osweiler, Matt Moore – none of these guys inspire much hope. So, QB play is where I’ll really begin the case for Parker in 2020 and beyond. Starting at some point in 2020, Parker is going to be playing with one of the most exciting QB prospects in some time: Tua Tagovailoa.
Tua was considered the consensus #1 overall pick in this year’s draft until a serious injury ended his season. He has all of the playmaking tools and Parker stands to benefit greatly from playing with him. 2019 saw DeVante break out – 1202 yards, 72 receptions and 9 TDs on 128 targets from the aforementioned Fitz and Rosen. Tua should make the game a little easier for DeVante.
DeVante also greatly improved his success rates versus man, zone and press coverage in 2019. He excelled in 2019 because he was creating separation and making contested catches at a very high rate (caught 87% of his contested targets in 2019). DeVante is a contested-catch monster and one of the reasons he was favorably compared to Alshon Jeffrey. They are both big bodied receivers who excel on contested balls. Alshon was also considered a top 10 WR in his prime.
DeVante tied for the 3rd most receiving TDs among WRs last year with 9. He will still be a red zone threat with presumably better QB play so I see that number likely going up on a better offense with a better QB. The bottom line is that DeVante is a true #1 on his team and showed last year that even with poor quarterback play he can be a top-12 WR. I’d much rather have the league winning ceiling over the middle of the road value that Preston Williams represents.
@BCTAFFE: If this were redraft, the choice would be less clear for me. Considering we are talking about the next three years though, Preston Williams is who I want to invest in. According to an article on Pro Football Reference, receivers tend to peak at their age 27 season. DeVante Parker is entering his age-27 season. Williams, on the other hand, is entering his age 23 season. Looking only at their ages, these two players are trending in opposite directions, and I want the one who is trending upwards.
It did not take Williams long to impress his Dolphins coaches last year. He went undrafted, but he played as if he was a first-rounder. Preston became the first UDFA to start a season opener for the Dolphins, and he earned veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick’s trust right away by catching a touchdown in his debut game. When looking at his impressive college stats (96/1345/14 junior season), it is clear that Williams’ performance as an amateur was not why he went undrafted. He pled guilty to a harassment charge in March of 2018, which can make even the highest-rated prospects fall in the draft. This may be a concern for some fantasy owners, but there are few better teams he could have been drafted to as a player with this kind of history. Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores is a no-nonsense leader who coached under Bill Belichick from 2008-2018.
Preston quickly gained Flores’ trust, as indicated by his rising snap count. In game 1, he saw 41% of the offensive snaps. His snap count rose to 68% in game 2, and it rose again to a whopping 96% in week 3. That number is especially impressive when you compare it to the other top rookie receivers from last year. Terry McLaurin did not get a 96% snap share until his 5th game, it took DK Metcalf 10 games to get there, Deebo Samuel got there in his 12th game, and AJ Brown did not see the field that much until his 15th game. Unfortunately, Williams tore his ACL in week 8. In weeks 3-7 though, Williams averaged 58.2 offensive snaps per game. In that same timeframe, DeVante Parker only averaged 56.4 per game. It is clear that we began to see a changing of the guard.
Williams backed up his presence on the field with his play, as he led the team in receptions and was tied with Parker in receiving yards through the first quarter of the season. Standing at 6’5”, Preston Williams will immediately be a go-to target for Tua Tagovailoa, whose deadly accuracy will benefit him in the red zone. His outlook is sky high, and if he hadn’t gotten injured last year this may not even be a worthwhile debate. I am excited to see what Preston Williams can do in his sophomore season as he builds on his promising rookie campaign.
@BCTAFFE Rebuttal: One of Nick’s main points for Parker was the poor quarterback play he had to deal with his entire career. Tua, not Joe Burrow, is my favorite QB from this year’s class, so Nick is absolutely right in saying Tagovailoa should benefit Parker. But Parker and Williams are on the same team, so Williams also gets the Tua boost. In fact, the addition of Tua is arguably better for Williams because as twenty-two and twenty-three year olds, they get to grow alongside each other in the beginning of their careers.
There is no arguing that DeVante Parker had a breakout year last year. However, it took him five years to get there. It is also fair to wonder what his final season statline would have been if Preston Williams had not gotten hurt in week 8. Parker’s 2019 season looks more like an outlier instead of a sign of things to come. In his second year, I expect Williams to take over the WR1 role on the Dolphins just as he was beginning to do halfway through his rookie year. In three years we will look back and wonder why Parker’s ADP of 60 was 100 picks earlier than the Dolphin’s actual WR1.
@NickDizzle17 Rebuttal: Ok, so Brendan made some great points there. I will admit that I am a big fan of WIlliams too, I just don’t think he stacks up with Parker. Even if I concede that Parker is going into his prime years age 27, we are looking at the next three years and for those years I want the known commodity I am getting with such a talented receiver in his prime. Parker was the 14th overall pick in 2015 and highly touted coming into the 2015 season. He didn’t blossom due to poor coaching, injuries and awful QB play. With those issues seemingly resolved, Parker’s stock is on the rise. Williams may have good seasons in the future, but I am willing to bet that Parker is poised for AT LEAST three great years in the immediate future.
Brendan also mentioned Williams gaining Flores’ trust early on. While he may have done that, it’s Tua’s trust that will be most important. If we look at catch percentage and drop percentages last season we see that Williams had a small case of the “dropsies.” Williams had a 53.3% catch rate and 6.7% drop rate compared to 56.3% and 4.7% for Parker. If you can’t hang on to the ball, it’s going to be tough to get the QB to look at you when he needs a big play. Speaking of big plays, those are Parker’s specialties. Parker had 9 TDs and over 1202 yards last year. WIlliams was on pace for 6TDs and 856 yards. As I mentioned before, Williams will be a nice WR2/3 type player and a steady presence in your lineup. Parker has all of the makings of being a perennial WR1 with league-winning upside. I don’t know about you all, but I play fantasy to win and only one of these guys has the ceiling to get me to the championship – Devante Parker.
Who won? Let us know in the comments!