Name: Mike Williams
Position: Wide Receiver
Class: Redshirt Junior
Games Watched: 2016 – vs Georgia Tech, vs Louisville, vs Ohio State, vs Alabama
Overview: Four-star college recruit from Vance, South Carolina to Clemson. Played in 2013, progressing to starter in 2014 and recording 1,030 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns. Had been considered one of the 2016-draft-eligible receivers to watch in 2015. Then fractured neck in the first game of 2015 colliding with the goalpost catching a touchdown. That’s as awful as it sounds. Came back at full strength in 2016, recording 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. Caught 8 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in the National Championship against Alabama, which Clemson won.
To be glib, all he does is catch passes. Ok, that’s not entirely accurate, but Williams is a deeply dependable receiver. His catching technique – extending arms to bring the ball in, then securing it depending on his body position – is fantastic. I’ve seen mention that he has a few focus drops, but I didn’t really see much evidence of that. He definitely has the hands to make any catch. For example, against Louisville, he extended arms and get underneath an overthrown pass with ease, earning a first down. He can use his strength and focus to follow the ball and catch passes in traffic. Add to that his awareness of coverage and field position, and he’s going to get a quarterback a lot of first downs.
Williams isn’t the quickest (more of which anon) but he’s surprisingly effective with the ball in space. In the Louisville game he was taking screen passes and cutting and barrelling his way through defenders. Williams has the strength and the wiggle to make men miss, and he was dominant enough at college it should still translate against bigger, tougher, more agile NFL defenders.
While he’s not quite the polished route-runner draft compatriot Corey Davis is, Williams still holds his own. A lovely stop route against Georgia Tech stood out because it also feeds into my “this guy will get you first downs” narrative. He had a big game in the National Championship against Alabama partly because he was able to change direction and throw cornerbacks off to get open. And these are good cornerbacks!
In fact, that’s part of where my confidence in Williams comes in. Against Alabama and Ohio State, he was usually matched up against a pair of future-first-round-picks: Marlon Humphrey and Gareon Conley. While I’m quite down on Conley (he’s only about my #10 corner in the draft) others are higher. Williams made him look silly again and again. He beat Conley with route-running, he made acrobatic catches over him, he generally stopped him getting a look-in. His big game in the Championship often saw him matched up against Humphrey. He has done it against very good players, and I expect that to continue.
That speed though. That combine time of 4.53 is a touch faster than he plays, I have to say. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not Laquon Treadwell levels of sluggish, but there is no way he can use speed to separate from NFL cornerbacks. That isn’t an issue if he’s a tough, acrobatic, route-runner extraordinaire. It does however mean at his peak you’re expecting 1,500 yard seasons rather than 1,800. First-world problems, eh?
And yes, his route-running is fairly good rather than great. I know that might set alarm bells ringing about slower, tougher receivers of recent years (not just Treadwell, but Dorial Green-Beckham, Robert Woods…). I don’t think Williams is that much of a risk, because he’s a well-rounded, intelligent football player. But it is a concern. I’m kind of lacking on weaknesses though. In most weaker areas, he’s still good. So it’s just…teams will ask themselves if he’s great in enough facets.
How you feel about Mike Williams will likely be determined by how you feel about ‘possession receivers’. Williams is that sort of player. He isn’t the quickest or fastest, but has decent route-running nous, and can make both athletic and contested catches. He’s a reasonable threat in space, for example on screens, and he’s had success against probably first-round cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Gareon Conley. His ceiling is limited by his speed – if he wants to become top-few elite he’ll need to become an excellent route-runner. But he will put up good numbers, be reliable for first downs, and be a quarterback’s best friend at times.
Grade: Top-10 pick