clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike Williams overcame a broken freakin’ neck to become a Charger

The Clemson wideout will take his prodigious talent to LA.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In Mike Williams’ final game as a college athlete, he torched an Alabama defense loaded with top-tier talent for 94 receiving yards and a touchdown while leading his team to its first national title in 35 years. Now, the Los Angeles Chargers are hoping he can bring that magic with him to the NFL.

Los Angeles selected the Clemson wideout with the No. 7 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. After a storied junior season and a pair of huge performances in the College Football Playoff, expectations are sky high. For Williams, getting this far is a testament to his resilience.

Mike Williams’ strength can’t be measured in statistics

The 6’4, 218-pound playmaker almost saw his career end in 2015 after suffering a scary broken neck in the Tigers’ opening drive of the season. Williams hauled in a toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone to give his team an early lead, but a push from behind sent him head-first into the base of the goalpost. While he avoided paralysis, he spent the rest of his season in recovery before being cleared to return.

The injury robbed him of his 2015 season, but made him even hungrier in 2016.

Williams was arguably college football’s best receiver last fall, using his size to bully cornerbacks for the ball and his quick feet to snap off routes and create separation. His speed isn’t transcendent, but at his size, the 4.49 40 he ran at his pro day is just fine.

He works well to rise up and snatch passes at the first possible point of contact, eliminating static from defensive backs in the process. He also understands what to do when his quarterback starts scrambling and needs help on the move — something that happened often with Deshaun Watson.

Those skills were enough for our Stephen White to compare Williams to another big target who currently stands as one of the NFL’s top wideouts — current Buccaneer Mike Evans. He’s got a point — when utilized correctly, i.e. with fade routes in single coverage, Williams is nearly unstoppable in the red zone.

Williams isn’t a perfect prospect

But he also has his flaws. Like Evans, he drops far too many passes for an elite receiver. His tendency to freestyle his way through routes may be frustrating for veteran coaches and quarterbacks looking for a more disciplined approach. He may also face a learning curve when it comes to the NFL, but after schooling Ohio State and Alabama defenders for a total of 190 yards and one touchdown during last season’s playoff, those concerns are certainly mitigated a bit.

His prodigious talent and work ethic may make him the best receiver to enter the NFL in 2017

"With Mike Williams, if there's only one (defender) on him, he's open,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters at his school’s pro day. “If there's two, they better be real tight on him. He's a handful and definitely NFL ready.”

Williams came back from a career-threatening injury to develop into one of college football’s strongest wide receivers. While he had plenty of competition at the top of draft boards from players like John Ross and Corey Davis, his track record of elite performances against elite defenses — including several players who will hear their names called in Philadelphia this week — made him a unique commodity in 2017.

Where does he fit in the Chargers offense?

The Chargers understood that value. They’ll pair him with Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams to form a strong trio of weapons for Philip Rivers, while allowing Travis Benjamin to slide back into a more natural slot position.