The NFL Draft might be one of the weirdest events in all of sports history. A bunch of teams sit in a room and decide the fate of young athletes and where they will continue to play their football careers.
How do they decide? Well of course the worst picks first. A team that has a lackluster offense, horrendous defense and terrible coaching is well deserving of getting all the help next season to improve their roster. Usually a quarterback, offensive tackle or pass rusher, the team that picks first always hopes that their selection becomes the face of the franchise and a cornerstone of turning the team around.
We all know that more times than not, that’s usually not the case.
While the first overall pick might be one of the trickiest selections to make due to the hype that will surround that athlete’s persona the rest of their career, in recent years, one pick has been a near death sentence overall when this team is on the clock.
While it might be one of the more famous numbers in the sporting world and considered lucky by many believers in perfect numbers, the seventh overall pick has been one of the worst selections to have come draft night.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams is looking to break that curse. Following the 2017 NFL Draft, Williams rookie season might have served as more evidence to why unlucky number 7 could be a trap for teams everywhere. Proof is everywhere for those who look, even for the 2018 selection, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
While there’s hope in Buffalo for the rookie gunslinger moving forward, 2018 could be a long season if the Chargers proved anything in Sunday’s 31-20 victory. The Wyoming product went 18 of 33 for 245 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked five times for 36 yards. Allen’s in for a beating his rookie year if his line doesn’t improve.
Williams however is looking to break the curse of 7th overall pick. It would be hard to blame him if he couldn’t though, many have tried and only two have come close to being decent in the last 10 years. Since 2009, the seventh overall selection has been destined to fail from the start of their NFL career.
And the degrading members of this selection can thank Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders.
When the Raiders were on the clock back in 2009, they had plenty of options to help jumpstart the franchise. With names such as cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (still a corner at time), linebacker Brian Cushing and wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin all available to start their Pro-Bowl careers, the Raiders decided to go for speed. Just speed. They selected Maryland wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey, who put up an impressive 4.30 40 time at the combine that season.
His collegiate statistics; 138 receptions for 1958 yards and 13 total touchdown in three seasons with the Terps.
The Raiders would released Heyward-Bey in 2013 by the organization and has bounced around the NFL since as a speedy depth receiver who contributes on special teams.
Since the infamous selection nearly 10 years ago, the seventh pick has seemed to be cursed in way or another, especially for wide receivers. While 2010 selection Joe Haden has been to the Pro-Bowl twice, his overall numbers have underwhelmed outside of his rookie and 2013 season. While still an excellent cover corner, his tackling skills have diminished while growth of receivers has made him a mismatch on the outside.
Aldon Smith also had a Pro-Bowl caliber season in 2012 after the San Fransisco 49ers selected him in 2011. The former Missouri outside linebacker looked great on the field, but came with a laundry list of off the field issues that consistently put him on the suspension list. He was out of the NFL following his 2016 suspension and later release by the Raiders. It’s a shame since names like HoustonTexans defensive end J.J. Watt and Dallas Cowboys All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith were taken just several picks later.
Mark Barron was supposed to become the next great strong safety out of Alabama in 2012 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him. He was traded to the then St.Louis Rams just two seasons later and has been a weakness as the team’s inside linebacker ever since. The Bucs struck out when the could have had a franchise leading tackler in the form or Carolina Panthers Luke Kuechley or a top caliber cover corner such Stephon Gilmore.
The Arizona Cardinals took a huge flop in 2013 when they selected offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who is now a free agent after being released by his fifth franchise. 2014 gave Tampa Bay Mike Evans, who is one of the few lucky selections to find success after being drafted in this dread position. Although his team is still looking to find success, Evans has been a top caliber receiver for the Bucs offense since his arrival.
While Evans might have started a trend upward at unlucky number seven, the Chicago Bears sent the pick back to the graveyard with their selection of wide receiver Kevin White. In four seasons, White has managed to collected 21 total receptions for 193 yards and is still looking for his first NFL touchdown.
The 49ers might be able to help break the trend with their 2016 selection of defensive lineman DeForest Bucker but only time will tell on that. So far however, Bucker has shown growth up the middle and perhaps the most stable defensive piece the organization has.
It’s easy to say that Evans’ success could change the narrative of the dreaded seventh selection but more often than not, being drafted here has been destined to fail since the Raiders cursed the pick all those years ago. Add a bunch of depth players and free agents and that is one club no one would ever want to join.
Even Williams has seen his share of the curse just two years into his NFL career. Last season, the Chargers passed on Pro-Bowl caliber free safety Malik Hooker to selected the Clemson product. At six-foot-three-inches, Williams was projected to be the red-zone threat for Los Angeles offense, complimenting the speed and production of Keenan Allen.
Instead, the rookie Tiger was plagued most of his rookie season with a herniated disc in his back. Williams would miss all of the 2017 preseason and placed on the team’s injured reserve for the first six week of the regular season. Williams would only suit up for 11 games during his rookie campaign, making one start and finishing the year with 11 receptions for 95 yards.
Williams even admitted his frustration following a what he hoped would build off his National Championship season just four months prior to being drafted.
“I’d be the first person to tell you that,” Williams said via the Los Angeles Times. “It’s totally different for me. I’m able to go out there and make those plays I couldn’t make last year, make the contested catches. The confidence just comes from being out there. I’m back out there having fun.”
So far this season, the second-year pass catcher has looked to break the curse for all those drafted seventh overall and beyond.
In Sunday’s outing against the Bills, Williams with just two receptions for a total 27 yards. Those two receptions however would lead to his first touchdown, showing promise at the wide receiver position for the first time in Los Angeles outside of Allen.
On the touchdown pass, Williams does a great job getting off the ball at the snap, forcing the cornerback to open his hips early. Williams has cornerback Vontae Davis beat off the snap and makes a quick cut towards the post. With safety Jordan Poyer closing in, Rivers delivers a clean pass in the chest for Williams to catch as he holds on going down.
A perfect execution on both sides as Chargers would take a 7-0 lead on their way to an impressive offensive performance.
“Mike took advantage of opportunities that he had.” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said via Chargers.com
This isn’t the first time Williams has impressed this season against coverage. Back in the preseason, Williams made one of the more impressive catches around the league.
Against the Seattle Seahawks in man coverage, Williams has a flawless release, allowing him to take advantage of the cornerback’s position inside. Williams breaks out on a fly pattern, having a slight step ahead of the Seahawks cornerback for backup quarterback Geno Smith to float one into the end zone. Williams times the jump perfectly to snag the football over the defenders head in a contested catch situation to come down with the score and give the Chargers a commanding 21-6 lead.
“He’s just continuing to get better and better,” Rivers said via Chargers.com “Shoot, we know what Mike is capable of. It’s just a matter of being out here each and every day, as he has been. He continues to make plays every day, and with those plays comes more confidence. He will be a big part of our offense.”
In two games this season, Williams has collected seven total receptions for 108 yards and broken the plains with his first NFL score. The real challenge will come ahead this Sunday as the Chargers fight for the heart of Los Angeles against town rival Los Angeles Rams. Williams will fight against two of the league’s top cornerbacks and hopefully continue to impress on his growing role with the Chargers offense.
“We’ve seen that kind of progress through the spring and summer, especially in camp,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said via Chargers.com “I think that he made some plays going back to the Seattle preseason game where he jumped up caught that ball for a touchdown.”
“The arrow is definitely pointing up on Mike. It was a lot of fun to see that.”
So the seventh overall pick has been a curse since 2009. While Haden and Evans might have found success in their own ways, most players drafted there are destined to fail before their NFL careers begin. While Williams has a ton to prove this season, his arrow is certainly trending in the right direction.
A direction all Chargers fans should be excited to see with this promising offensive unit.