With teams scrapping the waiver wire week in and week out for help at the wide receiver position, Mike Williams remains unsigned. The tenth overall selection of the 2005 NFL Draft played for the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, and Tennessee Titans but failed to stick with any of them. Let’s take a look back at what went wrong with Mike Williams.
After beginning the 2004 season with a strong 4-2 start, the Lions reverted back to their old ways and lost 8 of their next 10. They possessed the #10 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft and their pick was arguably the most criticized and laughed at decision among analysts and fans across the country. General Manager Matt Millen’s love for the sexy wide receivers that look good on paper when it came to measurables and potential had struck the Lions franchise before. In 2003, Millen selected Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers at #2 overall and used the 7th pick in 2004 on Roy Williams out of Texas. Yes, three years in a row Millen used his top ten pick on a wide receiver while the team needs were overlooked. Williams was too much for Millen to pass on as his 6’5” frame and outstanding ball skills near the end zone were traits that he did not feel would come around very often. And Millen would still argue to this very day that it wasn’t just mere potential that put Williams so high on their draft board as he finished his college career with 176 receptions – 2,579 yards – 30 touchdowns in just two seasons. While the need for a wide receiver simply was not there, this was a typical “Best Player Available” strategy by the Lions front office. While the list of players that could have helped the Lions more could go on for years, some of the most notable first round picks that were called on after him were DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Aaron Rogers, and Roddy White.
Coming from USC in an era where the coaching was as good as it got in college football (Pete Carrol, Norm Chow, and Lane Kiffin), Williams entered the NFL with more knowledge of the game than most prospects. In his two years as a Detroit Lion, Williams was coached by two different head coaches and two different offensive coordinators. The team itself was consistently at the bottom of the barrel looking up and patience is always thin there. The lack of continuity certainly did not aid the process of Williams and his up and down work ethic. When coaching changes are being made as rapidly as they have been in Detroit, players tend to have much less allegiance to the franchise and become more independent thinkers from the team. While the blame will not be solely placed on the Lions coaches, Williams could have at the very least been a steady contributor if the right man was in position and stayed there.
Both of Williams quarterbacks while with the Lions are still in the NFL. Problems are that neither of them were good enough to stay on one of the worst teams in the league and neither of them are starters elsewhere. Jon Kitna and Joey Harrington were the kind of signal callers that drew rave reviews in offseason workouts and training camp but when it came to Sundays during the fall, neither were even close to consistent. Williams was the kind of receiver that needed an accurate thrower of the football because of his lack of agility to adjust to balls of the mark, neither Kitna or Harrington possessed that in their tool set. A lot was put on Williams table early on, as the Lions playmakers were mediocre and their offensive line struggled in 2005. There wasn’t a running back even close to sniffing 1,000 yards and the leading receiver, Roy Williams, caught just 45 passes for 687 yards. In 2006 however the offense was more productive but Williams lost out on the opportunity to make his presence known as he was constantly being leapfrogged on the depth chart. After his trade to Oakland in 2007, Williams again was unable to make an impact because of the veterans ahead of him. Wide receivers in this league should be able to make plays when being single covered, but Williams never got to that point.
At 6’5”, 230 pounds Williams was a prospect that scouts, coaches, and personnel officials drooled over. He had the size to go up and reach for the high pass and he had enough speed to get behind defensive backs. While his 4.55 forty time was not exactly eye popping, his game tapes at USC led many to believe he played more than fast enough to excel in the NFL. Because of the one year layoff between his final season at USC and his rookie year with Detroit, Williams lost a lot of the natural feel he displayed as a Trojan. He couldn’t get off press coverage despite his size for a few reasons. First, he stood straight up as he broke off the line, giving cornerbacks a huge target to zero in on with their hands. Secondly, his feet looked heavy when he tried to juke the coverage. He looked as if he were in slow motion trying to give false steps to the cornerback. Once he was into his route, his ability to cut on a dime and make a break without losing speed was non-existent. The route tree he ran at USC was very limited and when he was asked to run deep ins or outs, or a double post, it simply took him too long. He would often lose balance as a result of trying to move faster than he was capable in breaks which even further threw off the timing the passer would try to develop with him. On top of all the pre-catch struggles Williams had, his hands were not reliable in the least. He had concentration issues, especially over the middle where a big target like himself could be used the most. Williams simply looked too slow against NFL defenders and without a stand out trait elsewhere, he turned into a complete non-factor.
As a high school senior, many schools were recruiting Williams as a tight end. Why? Because of his weight control issues. Those issues arose in the NFL as he was said to have showed up to an Oakland Raiders workout at almost 270 pounds. Like JaMarcus Russell whom I discussed in the last “What Went Wrong”, Williams did not comprehend how vital it was to keep his body in top shape as a professional athlete. While he did have a year away from the game, it was blatantly obvious that the work ethic that could have gotten the most out of him was not there. The issues he had entering the NFL are the same exact ones he has right now that prevent him from being signed to a roster. Young receivers are often found staying after practice being tutored by their quarterbacks, but Jon Kitna was harsh on Williams for leaving the facility the second the bell rang every day. Talent is necessary for the wide receiver position, but that alone will not make you an impact player. Williams refused to work on his weaknesses and it cost him and his teams dearly.
Again, Mike Williams was not thrown into an ideal situation. The two teams he played for in actual games are arguably the two worst organizations in football this decade. He never played with a steady presence at quarterback and he was never part of an effective offensive system that suited his skill set. But I refuse to make excuses for Williams as I think his career in the NFL is officially over despite the fact he was drafted just four years ago. While DeMarcus Ware and Roddy White are receiving their first monster contracts, Williams is sitting at home waiting for a tryout to be offered. And there in lies the problem with Williams. He does not work to increase the level of his game and the talent he does have is merely average. It is hard to imagine what could have been with him, but a career similar to the one Vincent Jackson is starting to put together could have certainly been possible. The difference between the two has very little to do with talent and/or ability, but rather work ethic and passion for the game.