Mike Williams Breaking Out In Sophomore Season

Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

I agreed with the plan.

The Los Angeles Chargers have made a very concerted effort to improve the offensive infrastructure around its aging QB Phillip Rivers to provide everything he could need at his disposal to lead a high-powered offense and make a run at the Super Bowl.

In 2017, the Chargers used its No. 1 pick on WR Mike Williams and then turned around to select offensive lineman Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney on Day 2. I personally had first-round grades on all three players. This comes after the Chargers invested its 2016 second-round pick on TE Hunter Henry and 2015 first-round pick on RB Melvin Gordon.

To quote the great Michael Scott, "I'm not superstitious but I am a little stitious" when it comes to the Chargers being a cursed team when it comes to injuries.

The examples in recent years of unfortunate injuries that have cost the Chargers time with its key players abound, so Mike Williams dealing with a herniated disc in his lower back almost immediately after he was drafted was par for the course. His back injury forced him to miss all of OTA's, training camp, preseason and the first six games of the regular season.

Not how you want to see a rookie wide receiver drafted No. 7 overall start his NFL career.

Getting acclimated to the Chargers offense and establishing chemistry with Rivers was behind from the outset. Disappointingly but not surprisingly, Williams only caught 11 passes for 95 yards in 10 games as a rookie.

Healthy entering the 2018 season, Williams is reminding the world why LA made him a top-10 draft pick. Through three games, Williams has 15 receptions for 189 yards with 3 touchdowns and is on pace for 80 catches for 1,008 yards and 16 touchdowns. Time will tell if that pace is sustainable but there is a clear comfort level between Rivers and Williams that is developing and it's leading to big plays on Sundays.

The knock on Williams entering the NFL was questions about  his ability to separate. At Clemson, he was a monster at the catch point and he was frequently relied on to come down with 50/50 balls. Projecting him to separate against NFL corners was difficult for many evaluators. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, was he more of a power-forward than complete receiver?

Well let's ask All-Pro CB Marcus Peters about that. Williams had no trouble getting behind Peters on this vertical route and Peters even turns into a full sprint before Williams gets out of his break. You can put to rest any concerns about his play speed and ability to win vertically after he dusts one of the league's top cover men. His blend of size and speed is a mismatch for most defenses.

Still concerned about his ability to separate? Have a look at this deep out.

Route running isn't always about simply running away from opponents. It requires nuance, pace and timing throughout the release, stem and breaks. On this rep, Williams works a stutter step out of his stance to set up a clean inside release which enables him to leverage the corner inside before crossing his face at the sticks and working towards the sideline. Williams creates plenty of cushion for Rivers to fit the ball in and creates an opportunity with plenty of space to get his feet in-bounds along the sideline.

Make no mistake about it, Williams is still the same alpha receiver we saw at Clemson that is capable of hauling in contested catches in traffic. This next play speaks to the trust Rivers has in Williams in those those scenarios.

Understanding the tight window that would form, Williams accelerates up the field and establishes inside leverage on Bills' retired CB Vonate Davis. With the safety reading the backfield, the window closes quickly but Williams is able to elevate between two defenders to bring in the first touchdown of his career.

While it's not as sexy as burning a corner deep, running a nuanced route to create separation or bringing in a redzone pass for a touchdown in a crowd, Williams has also had a good deal of success finding space against zone coverage. You won't be wowed with any physical traits displayed on this next rep, but the ability to run routes with great timing and provide an available target to the quarterback in the soft spot of a zone is another way to make a big play. Williams is proving to be good at that.

The early progress in Williams' sophomore season has been obvious and impressive. With the benefit of the offseason, he's developing into a reliable threat for Rivers. All but one of his catches so far this season has resulted in a first down and four of his 11 grabs have gone for at least 2o yards.

Being healthy and able to practice has developed confidence and consistency with Williams as head coach Anthony Lynn pointed out after Williams' two-touchdown performance against the Rams.

“Last year, he wasn’t healthy and he didn’t practice a lot, so he was kind of learning on the run,” said Lynn. “This year, he’s more comfortable. He hadn’t missed many practices this year, so, he’s been really consistent. I think his confidence right now is at an all-time high. He’s looking good.”

A healthy Williams has led to a dominant weapon for the Chargers, just like Los Angeles planned.

Written By:

Joe Marino

Chief Administrative Officer

CAO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.