Mike Williams, the team’s receiver, provides consistency and variety for the Chargers.
His position coach noted his highlight-generating talent by saying he “makes these one-handed catches like he’s rebounding.”
His head coach praised his ability to “box out” defensive backs and said he’s “like a power forward … a three or four in the NBA.”
Mike Williams was a basketball player before he joined the Chargers, a high school standout in South Carolina, where, as a senior, his team went undefeated and won a state championship.
After moving on to Clemson, Williams had visions of continuing to play the sport while also pursuing his future in football.
Then, he had a meeting with football coach Dabo Swinney.
“Coach Swinney said I was too skinny and needed to get in the weight room,” Williams recalled, laughing. “That just killed all my hoop dreams right there.”
Forced to focus solely on football, Williams excelled to the point where the Chargers took him with the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. He’s now on his second contract and on pace for his third 1,000-yard season.
Williams is still employing the same basketball-forged skills he said he has used in football going back as far as he can remember, skills that, by this stage, he has practically perfected.
He explained that the key to maximizing his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame is timing, that he can exploit his advantage in size by not giving smaller defenders a chance to disrupt plays.
“The main thing is to make sure my reaction time is on point,” Williams said. “If I react late enough, there’s no way he can react in time to really do anything. It’s reaction time and focusing on the ball.”
All of which helps quarterback Justin Herbert flex the powerful right arm that this season has produced the most passing yards in the NFL. Williams and Herbert teamed up for seven connections and 120 yards last weekend in a win at Houston.
With five-time Pro Bowl selection Keenan Allen set to miss his fourth consecutive game because of a hamstring injury, Williams again will enter Sunday as the Chargers’ top receiver when they play at Cleveland.
In Week 5 last season, he set a personal best with 165 yards on eight catches in a victory over the Browns at SoFi Stadium. That day also marked the latest of his six career two-touchdown games.
With his body and ability, Williams is a mismatch about to happen each time Herbert drops back. On Sunday, he’ll have a four- and five-inch edge over Cleveland’s two starting outside cornerbacks.
“When you may think that he’s covered or there’s traffic, Mike really isn’t covered,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He can give you that friendly target deep, intermediate and short, where you feel like you don’t have to be perfect with the ball.
“As a quarterback, that’s a great feeling, knowing that you don’t have to be perfect, that you don’t have to be precise every single time. He gives you a target where he can go help you.”
For someone who offers a big presence, Williams also brings a notable absence to one of the least-stable, most attention-demanding positions in sports. Wide receivers can be as much a handful for their teams as the opposition.
That’s not the case with Williams, whose calm, country upbringing shines no matter how many times he is or isn’t targeted on Sundays.
“He never complains,” Chargers receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “Sometimes, you take him for granted because of that. He just plays. He makes it easy for us. It can be hard not getting the ball, especially when you’re as good as he is.
“Mike’s as good a guy as you’re ever going to coach at any level. He’s that superstar who doesn’t want to be a superstar. In the biggest movie, he’s going to show up. At the same time, he wants no credit. He just wants to help us win.”
Even with his hoop dreams long gone, Williams is still winning one-on-one games and standing taller than most.