BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
One year after signing Mike Williams to a contract extension that would have kept him on the team through the 2018 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded Williams to the Buffalo Bills for a sixth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The most experienced and proven receiver on the roster, Williams figures to be one of Buffalo’s most targeted weapons during the 2014 season.
Williams was Syracuse’s leading receiver both as a true freshman in 2006 and his ensuing sophomore season. He entered his junior season expecting to continue displaying his talent but was suspended from the team for academic reasons and missed the entire 2008 season. Playing under then-first year Syracuse coach and now-Bills coach Doug Marrone, Williams was quickly back on track with high level production in 2009, as he caught 49 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns in just seven games. After seven games, however, Williams quit the team. He declared for the 2010 NFL draft and was a fourth-round selection (No. 101 overall) of the Buccaneers.
Williams began his NFL career in similar fashion to his college career, as he became the Buccaneers’ leading receiver in each of his first two seasons. Despite a career-high 996 receiving yards in his third season, Williams was not the team’s leading receiver in 2012 thanks to a 1,384-yard season from newly acquired receiver Vincent Jackson. During his final season as a Buccaneer, Williams only played in five games before being placed on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. Over four NFL seasons, Williams has a 16-game rounded average of 64 catches for 873 yards and seven touchdowns.
Williams has experience running a complex route tree that includes multiple breaks per route in the intermediate and deep levels of the field. He’s intelligent in his approach to running routes while taking full advantage of leverage over his opponents to separate and gain advantage in his breaks. Against zone coverages, Williams knows how to find space and get open.
When working the sideline and competing for the football, Williams has good body control and balance. He has good hands and usually catches the ball with his arms extended away from his body. Getting off the line of scrimmage and beating press coverage is not an issue with Williams. He gets fairly clean releases into his routes.
Listed at 6’2” and 212 pounds, Williams has good size for the position, which he utilizes well downfield and along the sidelines to shield defenders and get to the football. While not a standout blocker, Williams does his part and blocks with effort.
For as good as Williams is working the intermediate level of the field, Williams is not nearly as consistent in producing on short routes. He doesn’t work back to the football aggressively enough to win frequently at the catch point when running short routes. He too often waits on the football instead of attacking it, which can result in easy pass breakups for his opponent.
After catching the football, Williams is not a threat to do much after the catch. He is not elusive in the open field. Down the field, Williams doesn’t have great burst at the top of his routes to separate, and he isn’t a vertical speed threat.
Off the field, Williams’ record is stained; that might be what led the Buccaneers to trade him. In addition to his issues at Syracuse, Williams was arrested on criminal mischief and trespassing charges in February.
How Mike Williams Fits the Bills Offense
The Bills have done an outstanding job of assembling a group of receivers that bring diverse skill sets and different traits to the table. What Williams lacks can be found in the other wide outs.
Williams will provide quarterback EJ Manuel a reliable and proven receiver to look for in five- and seven-step drops. Williams knows how to win with his route running in the intermediate level. Manuel can trust Williams to work the sidelines and move the chains on third downs with his secure hands and body positioning.
When on the field, Williams has produced at a high level. It’s yet to be seen how the football will be dispersed in Buffalo’s offense, but Williams should be a strong asset in the Bills’ offense.
Williams and the rest of the receiving corps will help replicate the arsenal of weapons Manuel had at Florida State and provide the second-year quarterback the talent he needs to be successful.