Last year was pretty much a disaster for the Arizona Cardinals. That’s not exactly breaking news: They went 3-13, fired their first-year head coach and all of his staff, and traded away the rookie quarterback they selected with the 10th pick overall in the draft. But watching the film drives home how little sense of direction the team had.
At times, it looked like the offensive coordinator was just pulling play calls out of a hat, and there was almost no chance for Josh Rosen to be successful. In turn, it’s difficult to discern how much the skill players around Rosen were hampered by the offense’s lack of coherence.
Chad Williams is a perfect example. He is 6’2 and 204 pounds, and looks to have all the traits you would want in an NFL wide receiver. I saw plays in which he was able to run by defensive backs in press man. I saw other plays in which he looked quick getting in and out of his breaks on shorter routes. I saw him make some outstanding catches on balls that weren’t on target. And I saw him catch passes in situations when he knew he was going to get blasted, but he maintained possession of the ball through contact anyway.
However, he only ended up with 17 catches and on touchdown on the season, though he started in seven of the 10 games in which he was active. And I know that he technically had more than 40 “targets” last season, but a lot of the balls thrown in his direction had no chance of being caught by him or any other receiver who has ever played the game. Some of them might as well have been throwaways where he just happened to be the closest receiver in the vicinity.
Now, I don’t want to say that Williams wasn’t responsible for his low numbers to some extent. I have no way of knowing if he was running the right routes, if he practiced hard last season, if the coaching staff didn’t have confidence in him, or anything else that might contributed to his rather mediocre production. He did have an ankle injury that forced him to miss some games, so perhaps that was a factor, too.
However, Williams wasn’t the only Cardinal who didn’t put up good production last year, so I’m going to point the finger at the coaching staff for now.
The good news for Williams is that the Cardinals moved on from Steve Wilks and his staff.
Who knows, maybe Wilks could have turned things around in time, but that film from last year pretty much screamed out for change. I don’t know that the Cardinals’ new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, and his staff will be the answer, but at the very least things should look mighty different for Arizona on offense this season, especially with a brand spanking new No. 1 overall pick at quarterback in Kyler Murray.
The new-look Air Raid offense that the Cardinals will reportedly run should be a good fit for Williams. Murray was extremely accurate on downfield throws in college last season, so I think Williams is going to benefit a lot from playing with him. If Kingsbury intends to chunk the ball down the field, Williams can be a legitimate deep threat.
With his size and athletic ability, Williams should be able to make plays on a lot of jump balls, too. And if the team wants to go with quick slants, Williams can also handle that.
The question is, how much of an opportunity will Williams actually have?
Arizona still has Larry Fitzgerald, and there is no doubt he is going to be a starter for this team. They also have last year’s second-round pick, Christian Kirk, who managed to snag 43 catches and three touchdowns last season. Then they turned around and drafted Andy Isabella in the second round, Hakeem Butler in the fourth round, and KeeSean Johnson in the sixth round this spring. While Butler was injured in the preseason, the Cardinals signed veteran Michael Crabtree soon after.
It is obvious that Arizona was looking to upgrade at wide receiver, but where does that leave Williams?
Well, I really have no clue. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me how the Cardinals are planning to split up their wide receiver reps, and I’m not in coaches meetings this preseason to know which young guys are impressing them and which aren’t.
All I can go off is this: Chad Williams is a good football player on film. If he can actually stay healthy this season and earn playing time, the guy is sure to make plays. He has size you can’t teach, he has the physical tools most teams covet for wide receivers, and he has experience that you can’t get from just reading a playbook or watching film. I don’t know that he will start any games this season, but Williams certainly has the potential to dwarf his 17 catches from a year ago.
At the same time, I acknowledge that Williams may not even make the team with that many young wide receivers on roster, especially those picked after the new coaching staff was put in place. But that doesn’t change the fact that Williams is, from my perspective, a good, young, quality NFL receiver who is still improving.
If he doesn’t break out for the Cardinals this year, then he may well break out for someone else.
Confidence level: Low