Through five weeks, and four Los Angeles Chargers victories, the title of this piece speaks for itself. While years prior often denounced teammate Keenan Allen as the de facto WR1 for the Chargers, this season, however, Justin Herbert’s go-to man has come in the form of 6-foot-4 boundary threat Mike Williams.
Now in his fifth season as a Charger, his selection as the No. 7 overall pick back in 2017 has been masked by the loaded top 10 that included Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, Myles Garrett, and Jamal Adams, but Williams has been everything but a player to scoff at considering his production in his first handful of campaigns. A wideout with elite measurables and play-making ability, Williams’ game was initially centered around his inability to remain consistent, a headlining narrative that swallowed his rookie campaign where the Clemson product amassed just 11 receptions for 95 yards as he battled a herniated disk. He quickly became an afterthought for Philip Rivers and Williams’ projection looked muddy after just his first season as a pro.
Fast forward to the near midway point of the 2021 campaign, and Williams has been everything, and more, that newly minted head coach Brandon Staley hoped he would be for the high-octane offense led by Herbert.
Currently the league-leader in touchdown receptions (6) among all pass-catchers, Williams’ dominance has been long overdue.
Week 5 provided the latest glimpse into a season that has quickly evolved into a weekly showcase for Williams. He was unguardable against the Cleveland Browns, enjoying a career day that saw him haul in eight passes for 165 yards on 16 targets. His 42-yard hookup with Herbert was the conclusion of Williams’ sensational outing and the apex in what has become a breakout season. Everything has come easy for Williams despite the attention he has increasingly received from opposing defenses, and rightly so. His 471 receiving yards are fifth-most in the league, he’s recorded seven catches of 20 yards or more, tied for the sixth-most, and has 22 first-down receptions.
“The guy’s fantastic,” Staley said of Williams. “He’s a complete receiver. He can beat you in the deep part of the field, he can beat you in the first or second level. He can move through the formation. What you’re seeing is a guy who, when you need a win, can. He can. The guy’s a clutch player and I’m super proud of him.”
Hand-picked by Staley to run his offensive attack headlined by the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year in Herbert, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has revolutionized the Chargers approach on the offensive side of the football. A product of the Sean Payton tree in New Orleans where Lombardi continued to beat the horse that was Michael Thomas to the tune of 602 targets over his first four seasons, Williams is averaging 6.2 receptions and 10.2 targets per game this year, on pace to finish with 105 catches and 173 targets in a 17-game season. For context, his single-season high for targets came in 2019 in which he totaled 90 in 15 games. It’s not a difficult formula; Lombardi wants the ball in most talented athletes’ hands and Williams is on track to shatter his prior career totals.
Infused within an offense littered with high-profile talent in Allen and ball-carrier Austin Ekeler, the Chargers’ offensive game plan to score 30-plus points a week has been a recipe for success early on. As Staley and Lombardi’s rapport has continued to develop, an offense with an unlimited arsenal led by Herbert has provided a clear window into a pass-catching stud that has taken the league by storm.
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