Player evaluation is a holistic process. It is not just about evaluating tape, but also looking at size, athletic ability and production. It is easy to look at a player who excels in all of these phases and call them a great prospect. However, if there are shortcomings in one area, but promise in another, it asks the evaluator to take somewhat of a leap of faith if he wants to rate that player highly based on only a few traits.
With Clemson's Mike Williams, this is something that is certainly going to come into play.
Mike Williams has been an impact player for the Clemson Tigers whenever he is on the field and he is definitely one to come up with a splash play now and again. His big role, size and splash plays have led to a consensus on him being one of the top, if not the top, receivers in this class, but I have a lot of questions.
In terms of production, Mike Williams is below average in a lot of ways for a top prospect. While he did have over 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, he only accounted for 27% of his teams yardage in the passing game and 26% of their receiving touchdowns. For comparison, Corey Davis accounted for 42% of WMU's yardage and nearly 58% of their touchdowns. John Ross had 31% of Washington's yardage and 36% of their scores in the passing game. So, in terms of relative production, Mike Williams is well below the mark for a top receiving prospect.
It is also a bit concerning that Clemson did not miss a beat in Williams' absence. Last year, Williams missed all but a few quarters of the season with a scary neck injury. After losing him during the first game, Clemson went on to nearly win the National Championship and Deshaun Watson threw for over 4000 yards. With Williams back, Clemson's offense actually regressed statically. While Williams cannot fully be to blame for this, due to the fact that Clemson's insane 2015 production was due for regression, there can be some onus placed on him.
Mike Williams is a high variance player, meaning that he is inconsistent, but his big plays make him worth going back to. While this is a valuable asset in an offense, Clemson trying to run their offense through him made them predictable and his inconsistency hit the flow of the offense at times. The issue with Williams this season is that he rarely had the speed to separate and he was inconsistent contesting catches he was often asked to make in the offense.
In terms of ability and polish, it was hard to see an elite player many make Williams out to be. He is not a naturally agile or explosive player, but he also does not compensate with savvy route running. His game is very much predicated on his size (6-3, 225), strength and overall physicality. Williams may be inconsistent, but he is anything but passive. He consistently fights for the ball in the air and once he has secured a catch, he does a good job transitioning to a runner, finding yardage and fighting for it.
So it is far from being all bad with Williams. Quite the opposite actually. It is easy to see why Williams is highly regarded because he has a propensity to make really impressive, big plays. He is a highly physical player who will fight to make the play on a down to down basis. However looking at the various red flags make me hesitant about anointing him as a blue chip wide receiver.
There is a massive caveat in all of this, however, and it goes both ways. There is a possibility that Williams' play was affected by the fact that he was returning from such a serious injury. It takes time to physically and mentally recuperate from such things and that could explain Williams' shortcomings. However, there is very few ways that this can be proven and also dictate whether or not he will improve from this state. The NFL combine will be a big stage for Williams to show he is at least a mid tier NFL athlete, which will assuage a lot of my worries about him.
With all of these fears with Williams, to make him a first round pick or even a top 50 player requires a certain "leap of faith". This was a situation coined by NBC's Josh Norris and Draft Consultant's Johnny Rumford a while back to talk about having hope for a player despite various athletic, film-based or statistical red flags because there is promise in "something" you see. With Williams, that leap of faith will be taken based on his size, his physicality and also a hope that more time removed from injury will lead to improvement.
This leap of faith is a reminder of Williams' NFL Comparison, Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell similarly had average college numbers, a serious injury in school and had a number of athletic red flags. However, Treadwell was a big bodied receiver who won with physicality and ball skills, a skill set that made many (myself included) love him as a prospect and got him drafted in the first round. However, he barely saw the field due to a bevy of reasons, including his inability to separate.
Mike Williams needs an aggressive quarterback to trust him with the ball in the air because he will not consistently create separation. Williams' ball skills and size can create a mismatch on the outside and in tight spaces, but it takes a very specific quarterback to exploit such ability. Luckily, Carson Wentz has shown he will trust his receivers in these tight spaces, but Williams' inconsistency will be familiarly frustrating for the offense.
Williams would be a fit in Philadelphia and there are definitely reasons to like him, but there is also a lot of evidence to cause skepticism. Williams absolutely can improve, but to bank on that when there will likely be other talented offensive weapons available to the team in the first round would be a mistake. There is a lot to like about Mike Williams, but drafting him in the first round would be a leap of faith that the Eagles cannot afford to make when they need dependable impact skill players right now.