By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

Following their 2016 season, leading the San Diego Chargers pass-catchers was second-year receiver Tyrell Williams in targets, receptions, and yards. Williams also tied their Hall of Fame tight end, Antonio Gates, with seven touchdowns that season. Fourth-year wide receiver Keenan Allen, who would be, eventually named to the following four Pro Bowl teams, played only one game that season due to a torn right ACL. With Gates’ illustrious career coming to an end and the uncertainty of Allen’s recovery, the Chargers used the seventh pick of the 2017 NFL draft to select Clemson Tigers standout wide receiver, Mike Williams.

The 6-foot 4-inch Williams, the South Carolina native, was coming off a National Championship appearance in 2016, a National Championship win in 2015, and expected to give their legendary Quarterback Philip Rivers another weapon at the wide receiver spot. Williams currently has a career average that is second-best in the NFL since he joined the Chargers, among players with at least 150 catches. Williams’ 20.4 yards per catch average in 2019 is still the best in a single season over that span (min. 40 rec.).

Coming into his fifth season, Williams has caught 151 of 264 targets for a 56.5 catch percentage in his career. Four games into this season, he has a 67.7 percent catch percentage, which is the highest of his young career. Williams is also on pace to have 98 catches this season, which would be the most receptions of his career. Which would be the most catches of his four seasons (49) which happens to be the same season he gained over 1000 yards receiving while amassing 20.4 yards per catch.

Dating way back to OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) Williams, mentioned that he wanted to be a dominant receiver this season. When I asked him what it would take for him to be a dominant receiver, he told me, “Catch every ball that comes his way, make a lot of plays, be a leader… have fun! If you’re not having fun ain’t no need to be a part of it!” Having fun this season was also a strong emphasis of his.

A notable difference in Williams’s appearance coming into training camp was the absence of his familiar dreadlocks, which he has worn for his entire NFL career. He said he cut them off because his mom “didn’t believe he would,” while he was back home in South Carolina. He shocked her and the world when he cut them off after returning to Southern California for training camp.

Williams was asked early on in training camp about this being a contract year and he confidently would state, “I’m not focused on that.”  Williams, who was later asked about his contract situation in a separate press conference and would then quickly redirect the conversation by saying, “I feel like if I handle my business on the field everything else would happen on its own. So, I’ll just handle my business on the field.”

Yet, a few weeks later, Williams referenced a conversation he had with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi about the ball finding the X (receiver) in this offense, and he to him, “I appreciate you; this couldn’t happen at a better time.” Though this may have been misconstrued as him referring to his contract situation and he was quick to clear up any misunderstanding by saying, “Nah, I wasn’t saying it about that. I’m just saying for this team and this offense. It couldn’t come at a better time for us to make plays, go on a playoff run and win a Superbowl.”   

I was curious how Williams prepared himself for this season to ensure the team reached their goals and he told me, “I took this off-season and invested a lot in my body. In the past, there would be little things here and there that would limit my plays, but I’m trying not the have that this season, I’m trying to be available to help the team win.”When asked to elaborate on the specific investment he made this offseason, he said, “I’ve just spent a lot more time on my body. A lot more bodywork, massages, cryotherapy, yoga and stretching. Not that I haven’t been in the past, just doing a lot more now.”    

“As a team, win the division, make the playoffs. Get to the playoffs, get to the Super Bowl; that’s the main thing. The Super Bowl is here in LA, so we fo-sho want to be a part of that! But first, we have to win the division, take over the division, make the playoffs and get this thing rolling.” Impressively Williams would keep the focus on the team when stating his personal goals for the season. 

Coach Staley was audibly excited about his opportunity to coach Mike Williams. When asked to describe why he was so enthusiastic about coaching him, he took us back to watching Williams play college football and his days as a Defensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos. Staley said, “Let’s go back for a second; What he did to Alabama, like way back when, when he was at Clemson — because I know a lot of the guys on that staff at Alabama, I’m close with a lot of them — what he did to those guys in that game against those guys, I was a big fan of his back then.” Staley further detailed his excitement about Williams’s ability, “When I was in Denver in 2019, and we had to go defend these guys. Everybody knows that Keenan is this gangster route-runner, one of the premium route-runners, but then you see this Mike Williams guy — I mean, he’s 6-foot-4, 220 [pounds]. He can climb the ladder, has body control, can judge the ball deep, and then he’s on these in-breaks. I remember thinking, ‘This is a real issue, guys. A real issue!’”

In a complimentary fashion Staley went on to express the coaching staff’s excitement for Williams’ future by saying, “I tip my cap, number one, to [Wide Receivers Coach] Chris Beatty, our receivers coach. When you have guys like Mike and Keenan [Allen], earning their respect and their trust, and adding a couple of things in his game, where we feel like, ‘Hey, a couple of things in your game, we can activate. We think this is going to create even more production for you.’ Then, when you dive into [Offensive Coordinator] Joe Lombardi and [Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach] Shane Day, within our passing attack, with Chris [Beatty], this is how we’re going to design this offense and get Mike in situations that are advantageous for him — from a matchup standpoint, getting him to be running the right routes against the right guy.”    

Similar to a teacher teaching a lesson, coach Staley made their intentions with Mike this season very clear when asked, “I want this guy on more inbreaking cuts. I want this guy on the basics, the digs — specifically, the slants. When you have to defend the nine-route against the guy who can climb the ladder, the route that you must compliment a 9-route with is a slant. He’s s 6-foot-four, 220 pounds; this guy’s a power forward. He’s going to box you out most of the time, and it’s just tough on us defensively.” Staley added, “We wanted to get him more on these inbreaking cuts, also putting him in the slot some. When you’re playing against a smaller, nickel-type defender, he’s got size on the guy. Just expanding his location on the field to where he’s not just a boundary one; moving him around within the formation, and that would allow [WR] Keenan [Allen] to move. I felt like that would be an advantage for us, offensively.”

Unprovoked Staley, also added, “Now, getting to know the guy, I’ve gotten closer to him as a person, too. Mike’s been awesome. Mike’s a simple guy; he’s just an easy guy to talk football with; he’s just a ball guy. I’ve enjoyed coaching the guy. I feel like we’ve been able to establish something. We’re at the beginning. I’m just excited to uncover even more. Certainly, without Mike Williams, our production wouldn’t be where it is.”

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi says about Mike Williams, “He can track the ball, high-point the ball, win those contested catches. I’ve been impressed. He’s not a real animated guy, but I can’t think of one mental error that he has had through training camp, so he’s a smart guy who studies and does the right thing. All around, I’m just really pleased with him.” Lombardi would also say when asked when he knew that he would want to play Williams in a role similar to Thomas within the offense, “I think pretty much right away. You just saw the similarities. I knew that there were things that he would be good at that we could put them in position to do it. So far, it has paid off.”

In the first leg of the Chargers’ journey to achieve their goals this season, Future in Herbert said about Williams, “I think he’s an incredible receiver. He’s one of the guys that when he goes up and 50/50 balls are more like 75/25; he’s a trustworthy guy.” After their game three win over the Chiefs, Herbert said about his fifth-year receiver, “Mike Williams changes our offense. We knew going into this year we needed to get him the ball more!”

All-Pro Wide Receiver Keenan Allen said about Williams’ developing game, “We’re finding more ways to get him the ball. Usually, it was just stop and go routes, now he gets it on everything. It’s harder to defend for them, easier for us. That’s the stuff we like.” Allen added “I told you guys in training camp that boy was getting better; believe it or not. Four touchdowns.”

In their week three win against the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, to extend his streak of games with a touchdown catch to start the season to three consecutive. This start ties the third-longest streak to open a season in team history and is the first of three-plus games since TE Antonio Gates in 2010. On his birthday, Williams will appear in his 60th career game on Monday Night Football versus their divisional rival Las Vegas Raiders.

With having fun being a focus of his game Mike Williams sure is looking like he is having some fun early on this season. As he is currently tied for 19th in the league with receptions; 12th in reception yards, and is tied for second for the most touchdown scored by a wide receiver with four. Williams is also tied for fourth in the league, with his teammate Keenen Allen, with 17 receiving first downs. I have to imagine this is the production the Chargers brass hoped for when they drafted him. In addition to being the type of production coach Staley dreamt of once he took over this head coaching role.  

Based on Lombardi and Staley’s excitement for Mike Williams, I would expect his productivity to increase as he continues to get more comfortable with Justin Herbert, and they both become more familiar with this new offense Lombardi has installed. Kindly share your confidence in this being his most productive season yet for Mike Williams, based on what you’ve seen so far in this season. Additionally, would you have any objection to giving him a new deal? Let me know by reaching out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at info@whatsgoodinsports.com. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics or angles about this new version of the Los Angeles Chargers you would like to see discussed this season.

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