Mike Williams will be another popular mock draft choice for the Buffalo Bills over the next few months as the 2017 NFL Draft approaches. He played a year with Bills receiver Sammy Watkins at Clemson, got hurt, then rebounded to become one of the most productive receivers in college football this past season. Let’s examine this tall Clemson wideout.
Williams grew up in South Carolina, where he was one of the state's best players as a wide receiver. He joined Clemson as a four-star receiver after posting back-to-back stellar seasons for Lake Marion High School and Technology Center. He contributed as a freshman, with a 20/316/3 receiving slash in that first season. By year two, he was leading the team in receiving yards.
At the start of the 2015 season, Williams suffered a significant neck injury when he ran into the goalpost during a game. He missed the entire remainder of the season recovering from the injury but returned in 2016 and picked up right where he left off. Williams majored in Sociology at Clemson, and completed his graduation requirements early enough to qualify for the draft.
Dan: We will have a better sense of Williams' athleticism after the Combine ends. Based on his receiving profile, I expect him to measure in at six-foot-three and around 220 pounds. I think he'll run his forty-yard dash somewhere in the 4.5 range, and he should have better than average jumping results. He doesn't strike me as an athletic freak, by any means. He just does a good job integrating his technique in key areas to make him a dangerous receiver.
Chris: Tall, lanky-ish frame. Fluid for his size. Nice, slippery agility. He has good-not-great long speed. For someone with his build, I was surprised to see him flash some power after the catch, carrying some defenders and lowering his shoulder to gain extra yardage. Certainly athletic, but not an elite athlete at his position at the NFL level.
Adam: Another big-bodied receiver with the athleticism to match, Williams is an absolute terror at times to match up with. While not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, his straight line speed is plenty good enough to stretch the field and eat up open space in front of him.
He shows excellent body control when in the air and a real knack for tracking the ball. Even if pestered by a defender or adjusting to a redirected ball, his eyes never leave the prize. A lot of potential “air balls” ended up in his hands, plays that not many receivers could consistently make.
Dan: Williams will never be known as a stellar route runner. He has one golden route: the deep comeback pattern, which he sells incredibly well and can break on in an instant. The rest need significant work. He will round off his stems, his initial drive off the line isn't forceful enough 100% of the time, and he doesn't sell his route with any real deception. For a guy with a reputation of boxing out defenders, he actually allowed those players to make a number of plays on the ball just by the nature of his route running. His job could've been easier if he was better at this.
Williams does do a great job of working through press coverage. He has nice hand-fighting technique and can bench press a cornerback to buy himself room off of the line of scrimmage. Still, this area does hold him back somewhat.
Chris: Not a jagged route runner but smoothly moves in and out of his breaks and much of that is due to his athletic talents. Clemson’s receivers aren’t known for coming in as laser-sharp route-runners, but I think Dabo Swinney gets them more NFL-ready than most people think. They don’t run the entire route tree but are exceptional running slants, digs, and corners. Williams is also very proficient in the array of screens receivers are called upon today. Route running isn’t his strong suit but because the other attributes he brings to the field, it doesn’t need to be.
Adam: Disappointing. I’ll be the first to admit that I love to nitpick prospects, but as a general rule, I try not to be too harsh. That said, this is far and away Williams’ most underdeveloped skill as a receiver. He ran a simple route tree, consisting of go routes, posts and flags, slants and outs, and back shoulder/comeback routes. That’s a high school route tree, one that we all knew after playing for a year. If a receiver runs that well, I won’t tend to knock that aspect too much, but unfortunately he didn’t. There were no discernible cuts or defined footwork in his route running, just a bend in the intended direction with the intent to use his body to shield defensive backs from the ball. That mentality will go a long way in the NFL, but he needs to start each play with a crisp route.
Dan: When Williams is drafted in the first round this April, it will be firmly due to his outstanding skills at the catch point. He uses his six-foot-three frame to its maximum ability in order to make leaping grabs and box out defenders. Williams has excellent skills for locating the football and adjusting his body in an instant to get in position for the catch. That's what made him the most dangerous receiver on comeback routes in college football. He has great hand-eye coordination, being able to catch bobbled passes that are coming at a weird angle.
His hands are pretty good, but I do see him double-clutch passes on occasion. His technique for catching passes in stride is well-developed, and it helps him earn bonus yards on slants.
Chris: Though not nearly as wide and powerful as Mike Evans, Williams has Evans-esque ability on back-shoulder throws and when high-pointing the football. Seriously. There are some instances when his jump-balls grabs aren’t exactly textbook, and the ball bobbles slightly, yet if the ball is in his vicinity, he typically comes down with it. That’s vital. He even flashed the concentration, athleticism, and coordination to make a handful of catches near the turf. He certainly knows how to box out defenders and consistently fights to snare the football at its highest point. This is Williams’ trump card.
Here’s a prime example of high-pointing #BallSkillz:
Adam: Take my level of disappointment with Williams’ route running and turn it around here, because that’s how impressed I am with this guy’s ability to just catch the ball. A hands catcher at heart, the only body catches that I saw were intentional efforts to protect the ball from a defender or to scoop up a low throw. As mentioned earlier, his body control is allows him to win jump balls that others couldn’t, putting him in a position to snatch it at its highest point. It also makes him quite difficult to defend on back shoulder throws, where more than once he caught passes while reaching right over the corner in front of him. He hand fights effectively, but still doesn’t need a lot of separation to make a play.
Yards After Catch
Dan: Williams isn't a speed receiver, so he won't break open a 40 yard gain on a slant pattern. But he is quite the handful to bring down. Williams is a gritty runner who will drive through initial contact to earn chunks of yards beyond that point. He has good vision and can locate a developing lane, and plays with good intelligence.
Chris: Despite his lanky frame that lacks noticeable power, Williams can drag some defenders and is willing to lay the lumber. Beyond that though, his aforementioned slippery elusiveness and athleticism allow him to be an underrated yards-after-the-catch receiver. Most tall wideouts aren’t known for their talents with the ball in their hands. Williams won’t lead the league in YAC, but he has some wiggle and can pick up decent chunks of yardage on screens, after he catches a slant pattern or even if cornerbacks don’t push him out of bounds after making a back-shoulder grab. This is a nice bonus to his overall game.
Adam: There’s a little shimmy and shake at times when the big guy has space to move, but overall he’s a north-south breed of runner who looks to catch the ball and get his yards. While he isn’t quite the type to split the safeties and take a short throw to the end zone, he’ll regularly lower his shoulder and impose his will on the defensive backs in front of him. There’s a definite simplicity to this part of his game, but if you can catch the ball and score, that’s just fine by me.
Dan: While this is admittedly a minor facet of a receiver's responsibilities, I consider it to be a good measure of a player's effort. It's also becoming more important as teams implement more screen passes and run-pass option plays into their playbooks. Despite his large frame, Williams is not a very impressive blocker. He gives a decent effort and gets in the way of his cornerback, but is rarely seen driving his opponent out of a lane. At times I even saw him simply stand to the sideline, not even pretending to block (and at least once, it happened when the running back escaped outside and came his way). Maybe he's coached that way, in a similar sense to how Baylor's receivers were coached to take plays off under Art Briles. But I came into this evaluation of an "always-open" size receiver with Mike Evans in mind. And when it comes to blocking, Williams is no Evans.
Chris: I typically don’t ding a receiver much if he’s not a bruising run blocker, but it is a luxury if he is one. Williams has flashes of passable blocking on off-tackle runs and screens to other receivers, but he’s not going to be the blocking centerpiece of any outside run game, that’s for sure. At around 6’4” and just over 200 pounds, I’m not surprised he isn’t a bull-dozing people-mover.
Adam: For a receiver his size, you’d really expect a lot more in this portion of the game than you ultimately get. It won’t hurt his draft stock all that much, but it could have helped had he shown more effort historically. Williams won’t search and destroy like Robert Woods, instead electing to simply try and engage his defender and just get in the way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, so all in all he’s pretty darn average in this respect.
Dan: I'll be honest, I came out a little underwhelmed on my evaluation of Mike Williams. In the chorus of "WR1 WR1 WR1" that I've been hearing on this guy, I had a vision in my head of Manziel throwing up 30-yard go routes to a leaping Evans, who caught them seven feet high before bodying a defender and running the rest of the way for the touchdown. If Williams is going to be the top receiver and a first-round pick, he needs to be an exceptional player in almost every facet of the game. Personally, I don't think he's there. His catching technique is excellent, and he will fight for extra yardage, but I think he may struggle to separate in the NFL in a similar way to Laquon Treadwell (perhaps not to as severe a degree). When all is said and done, I don't have him as a first round pick. I'm still waiting for my "WR1."
Chris: Williams isn’t a sure-fire No. 1 wideout at the next level. Or, at least, I don’t think he can come in right away and be that guy. Can he star as a TD-scoring No. 2 and eventually — when he adds more muscle and learns to run more routes — be a 75-catch, 1,200-yard, 10-TD receiver? I think so. There’s some projection with him due to his limited experience running an plethora of routes and the fact that although he’s athletic, he’s not a super-explosive home run hitter down the field. Therefore, I can understand those who aren’t enamored with him as an early first-round prospect. However, Williams is an athletic, body-control, high-pointing, defender-shielding master right now. Teams should covet those aspects of his game. I know I do. In a vacuum, I think you’d like to take him somewhere in the middle portion of Round 1 instead of at No. 10, but the Bills could do much, much worse than landing Williams. He’s a superb wide receiver with a vital dominant trait who’d be a welcomed addition to Buffalo’s offense. In fact, Williams reminds me of former Clemson wideout with good size and high-pointing ability.
Adam: Though Williams is as good a natural pass catcher as any general could hope to find in this draft, there’s enough work still needed on his game that I have to call him a mid-first round pick. Undoubtedly he could creep up, and likely will, but poor route running usually leaves even the best of rookies in limbo for at least the first few games of the year. If Buffalo pulls a fast one on us and trades back, this could become a much more interesting conversation, but right now they’d be better off digging into the second tier of incoming receivers. That 10th overall pick is just too important to bring in a player in obvious need of work.
NFL Player Comparison
Dan: Devin Funchess
Chris: DeAndre Hopkins
Adam: Alshon Jeffery