Entering the 2011 season Josh Freeman and Mike Williams were arguably the hot duo to draft. They were coming off a promising 2010 campaigns:
- Freeman threw for over 200 yards in each of the final four games (and over 250 yards in three of the four) with 9 TD and 0 INT; he threw for 250+ yards just three times all season
- Williams scored 11 TD in his rookie season, with 65 catches for 964 yards
The duo was supposed to take a major step forward in 2011. They were supposed to grow and become one of the dynamic passing attacks in the game. However, they fell completely flat.
Freeman became extremely interception prone, with 22 picks vs. just 16 TD.
Williams, meanwhile, managed to find the end zone just 3 times and saw his yardage fall to 771.
Part of the problem was definitely that defenses had the ability to key in on the pair, trying to take away Williams (especially in the red zone) and force Freeman to try and beat them elsewhere. Sure, Kellen Winslow produced with 75 catches for 763 yards, but where else was the production? No other player had more than 41 catches and, while LeGarrette Blount rushed for 781 yards, the next highest rushing total was 238 for Freeman.
In other words, defenses had little reason to focus on anyone but Williams and remove him from the game plan. In 2012, things are going to be extremely different.
The biggest signing, of course, was the addition of Vincent Jackson. Obviously Freeman is no Philip Rivers, but Jackson is the same receiver that has picked up over 1,000 receiving yards in three of the past four seasons (the only time he didn’t was in 2010 when he played in just 5 games).
No longer will defenses be able to slide their coverage to Williams, trying to take him out of the game. Instead, they are going to have to focus on Jackson, giving Williams a chance to flourish once again. Instead of being in the spotlight, Williams could fly under-the-radar as the second receiver who struggled a year ago.
Let’s not overlook the addition of Dallas Clark, either. Is he the player that he once was? Of course not. Could he be finished? Possibly, but a little production early on and defenses are going to have to take notice and adjust again.
Throw in an improved rushing game, having drafted Boise State’s Doug Martin at the end of the first round, and the pressure should be off Freeman and the passing game in general. With a 1-2 combination of Martin and Blount, they shouldn’t be forced to lean entirely on an aerial attack. Again, this just forces the defense to adjust, not allowing them to simply try to take Williams out of the offense.
The bottom line? Both Freeman and Williams struggled in 2011, a year that they were highly touted and drafted early. That is going to cause their stocks to fall on draft day 2012, possibly significantly (Freeman’s current ADP is 166.35 and Williams’ is 146.60 according to Mock Draft Central). With the Buccaneers taking the steps to take the focus off of them, they are ideal candidates to break out a year later than expected. Now is the time to grab them, as they are in position to significantly out produce their draft day spots.
What are your thoughts of Josh Freeman and Mike Williams? Are they players you are targeting in 2012? Why or why not?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: