To say the NFL's most puzzling personality is back is an understatement -- Williams could be the fantasy spoiler of the 2008 season.
First, though, it is important to acknowledge that a healthy Ronnie Brown would have been a sure bet to win the Miami running back job -- in fact, if he had been healthy entering camp there would be no talk of competition. But Brown's health (i.e. his knee) remains a legitimate concern. Talk has even swirled in Miami that Brown could become trade bait (the Dolphins have dismissed such rumors). The fourth-year back is expected to miss the team's third preseason contest against Kansas City with a bum thumb, though most believe his knee, and not his digit, is the real culprit.
The situation has fantasy owners beginning to examine Williams' fantasy potential closely.
It would be easy to fill this entire column with recreational drug innuendo -- and I plan to -- but when the smoke clears Williams is still a viable fantasy prospect, and not just some has-been hanging on to his one last toke, er, I mean chance.
Why Williams will hold onto the job
Williams may not have played much football in these past few years, but his now 31-year-old body didn't take an NFL beating, either. While he was sleeping in tents and seeing the world, other backs his age were putting wear on their tires. That could allow Williams to salvage a few extra years on his treads and handle a sizable workload.
Williams is also a Bill Parcells guy, which is another reason fantasy owners can believe he'll eventually win this job. Parcells is the NFL's version of the Statue of Liberty -- "give me your tired, your weak, your poor" -- and Williams is just another Keyshawn Johnson or Lawrence Taylor for the Tuna to fix. Plus, Williams fits the mold of the prototypical Parcells bruising back. That's not to say the Dolphins and their coach, Tony Sparano, will continue to follow the Parcells playbook, but everything else done in Miami in Parcells' tenure has seemed to follow the usual formula.
As far as injuries go, Williams' pectoral tear was much easier to repair than Brown's ACL, and we're pretty sure Williams has a good prescription to get him through the bumps and bruises as he re-adjusts to life in the NFL.
Why Brown will win the job back
Few NFL backs are as deadly as both a rusher and receiver as Brown, who was on his way to an 80-catch season last year before the injury robbed him of nine games. Consider what he did in the four games prior to his injury: 112 yards rushing, 99 yards receiving and three touchdowns against the Jets; 134 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving against the Raiders; 114 yards rushing and five catches against the Texans; and 101 yards and nine catches against the Browns. In today's game, having such a weapon is invaluable because it stretches out defenses and occupies the minds of linebackers.
In terms of character, there is no competition, and chances are there is still some ill will hiding in the locker room from the last time Williams ditched his teammates; as far as outsiders know, Brown has a clean relationship with the clubhouse. At 26, Brown is much younger than Williams, but his contract is much thicker. Brown can be the Dolphins' future, whereas Williams can only be its back du jour.
Who fantasy owners should pull for?
One bong hit away from pro football banishment, Williams is also one "clean" season away from being the comeback story of the year. Brown is younger and more versatile, but his continued knee problems are something fantasy owners are losing sleep over. For that reason, and considering how little fantasy owners need to invest in Williams as compared to Brown, it's fair to argue the one-time dreaded one is the better bargain.
Williams has received nothing but praise from the Miami coaching staff this summer, and if he can win over that group it's time he win over fantasy owners as well. Fantasy owners must be concerned about a split backfield, but as long as Brown is blaming thumbs and pinky toes for not playing, Williams will continue to be the team's unchallenged go-to rusher.