There are two traits that separate the upper echelon receivers of the NFL from the hundreds of other receivers. The first thing is that they’re reliable. Whether that’s their ability to simply stay on the field or winning on the most important down. Everyone in the stadium knows you’re getting the ball but that doesn’t matter. You find a way to win your match-up.
The second trait is a term Matt Harmon coined. A trump card. All the greats have it. Antonio Brown sets up his routes like nobody else. A corner can be draped all over Julio Jones and you’d hardly notice with his concentration. Odell Beckham Jr.’s acceleration is otherworldly.
When it comes to the Chargers’ Mike Williams, his dependability at the biggest moments of the game is reeks of a top flight receiver. That can be on 3rd downs, in goal-to-go situations, or moments when Clemson needed to make a play. Williams rose to the occasion. Literally.
Williams has a trump card as well. His is winning when the ball is in the air. Williams is abnormally comfortable when a defender is on his hip. He always seems to jump at the right time and hang on through contact. Because he’s able to execute in crunch time it makes it easy to project Williams in this role.
Today we’ll walk about how Williams executes on “back shoulder fade” throws. Five was all I needed to see. There are more. Plenty more. When you see these clips understand that these should not look as routine as they do.
A little nuance
I’m not sure if this is the best clip you’ll see but it’s definitely one of my favorites. I mentioned how Brown sells his routes. It’s all about keeping the defender off balance. Here, Williams sells the slant route beautifully. It’s efficient, though. A quick 2-step. No laboring motions. Throw in a head-fake and he has the separation needed before the ball is thrown.
The end of the route is just as important at the beginning. As he catches the ball he turns away from the corner so he can’t poke it out all in one fluid motion. On the surface, this just seems like a tall guy going up and making a play. But when you break it down, this is next-level stuff from Williams.
Space, space, space
An underrated part of being a receiver and winning down in these goal-to-go situations is understanding the space you have and maximizing said space. Above Williams manipulated more space by working inside for a couple steps to allow more space to throw. Below is a little bit different. Williams has a tight enough split to the line of scrimmage where he doesn’t really have to give off the illusion he’s going inside.
He lulls the corner to sleep for the first 5 yards. Then he has juuuuust enough juice to get hip to hip with the defender. Once a receiver gets hip to hip at any point, they’ve won. Williams is able to fend the corner off with his size and make a nice over the shoulder basket catch. The tight alignment helps. But his ability to gain and maintain positioning while the ball is in the air wins me over on this route.
When offenses get between the 30-40 yard line in the opponents’ territory coordinators love to take shots. Whether it’s schemed up or just throw it up to your playmakers. With Williams, it was the latter. Deshaun Watson would just throw it high and far then Williams would go get it. There’s no secret technique here. Jump higher than the guy defending you. Moss drill.
If we take a closer look we get a chance to see how skilled Williams is at judging the ball in the air. His leap timing is everything.
Mike Williams has 1st round moss drill skills pic.twitter.com/Zrx1bpVkbM— KP (@KP_Show) November 27, 2016
I see guys all the time when the go up to make a play they fade away from the ball. On his last step, Williams steps towards the ball and that all but eliminates the corners chances of making a play while enhancing his. Full extension is another plus. He’s 6’4” and plays every bit of that big, which is encouraging. Another fantastic rep here by Williams.
When you have as many contested attempts like Williams has and will, you need to have strong, sure hands. That’s another credit. In this rep, you’ll see there is a sandwich. The defender's arms in between Williams' hands. This should not look as easy as it is.
There he is, not just securing it but snatching it away and securing the ball. The ball barely moves. This is an area where Williams will really have to excel at. I hope it carries over as he’ll have plenty of size mismatches down in this area of the field. I actually like how he traps it against his pads first. It allows him to gain full possession.
Win when they need ya most
National championship. Down 3. 4th quarter. 1:56 to go. It’s 2nd and 5. Isolated against a future high draft pick. The team needs you to make a play in the worst way. The defense knows you’re getting the ball. Can you win?
This is a back-shoulder fade against a corner that runs sub 4.4. So separation isn’t happening down the field. The goal is to get hip to hip. Gain leverage and positioning. At the biggest moment of the game, William comes up huge.
It starts with a nice release off the line of scrimmage. A jab step to the inside gets the corner to flip his hips. It was his only chance to win early in the route and he couldn’t have executed it any better. The ball is underthrown. That doesn’t stop Williams from making a play. This is just good athleticism and body control in the air. Add in concentration and the circumstances and there’s a reason this play was last. This play helped secure a national title.
Williams’ will to win when the ball is in the air is special. He just finds ways. His struggle will be to consistently get hip to hip that way he has the best angles. “If we’re even we’re leaving” is a popular saying. If Williams is able to get on top of defensive backs at the next level he’s got a chance to be special. I’m excited to see his role and how his skill set translates.