The NFL Draft kicks off in just over 72 hours, meaning there are several top-flight prospects hyped as can’t miss athletes who’ll make an immediate impact.
Mike Williams was in their shoes exactly one year ago.
The Clemson wide receiver was regarded as the top player at his position, and one that would be able to help his team out right away. He was a consensus top 10 pick, and ended up going seventh overall to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Unfortunately, as most know, he tweaked his back less than two weeks later during the first day of rookie mini camp. Williams missed the rest of the offseason program as well as training camp before he was cleared to practice once the regular season began. He was thrown into the fire, and it all added up to equal a lost season for the talented wideout.
Now, Williams is warning his doubters not to label him a bust.
He admits he’s heard people throw that term around after catching just 11 passes for 95 yards in 10 games.
However, careers aren’t made after just one season.
Rookie years can often be rocky.
Remember, Melvin Gordon did not find the end zone once as a rookie before becoming one of the game’s most prolific touchdown machines. In fact, the last three Chargers chosen in the first round prior to Williams (Jason Verrett, Melvin Gordon, Joey Bosa) all missed at least a quarter of their rookie campaigns, but bounced back the following season to make the Pro Bowl in year two.
He isn’t making any guarantees, but he’s excited to finally show the fans the real Mike Williams.
“I’m excited about this year to not only prove to everybody else, but prove to myself that I know who I am and what I can be,” he explained. “I’m real confident in my abilities. I wasn’t capable of doing what I can do last year because of the injury. This offseason, I feel 100%. I’m ready to go out there and dominate. Everyone faces adversity. It shows what kind of player you are when you can bounce back from adversity. I’m looking to redeem myself and show everyone what I’m capable of doing.”
While he may not have realized it at the time, the wideout said the lingering effect of the injury limited him more than he thought.
Right now, Williams feels like a whole new person.
Not totally new though.
More like his old self.
“It’s totally different right now,” he said. “My body feels a lot different. I’m excited to keep getting out there with my teammates and with Philip (Rivers). We want to get that connection down. Last year, I was able to go out there and play, but I wasn’t the Mike Williams I am used to being. I was limited in doing what I can do, and especially limited in what I do best, which is go up and get the ball. My back limited me from doing those types of things. Now my back is right, I’m healthy and feeling great. I’m ready to go out there and show everyone they’ve got a great player.”
Head Coach Anthony Lynn is one of many at Hoag Performance Center eager to see a healthy Williams in action.
“That’s huge,” he said. “I feel like we have (another) first-round pick (with) Mike coming back this year. Because of his injury, he wasn’t able to do much last year. You look at Forrest (Lamp), you look at Mike — those two guys I think are going to help our football team that we didn’t have last year.”
If anyone can come back from an injury-plagued season, it’s the 23-year old Williams.
After all, he has a proven track record.
Following a breakout freshman season at Clemson, Williams fractured his neck in the season opener his sophomore year, missing the rest of the 2015 campaign. While some questioned if he’d ever be the same, he bounced back to help the Tigers win the national title by hauling in 84 passes for 1,171 yards and 10 TDs in 2016.
“I’ve been through this type of situation before, so I know what it takes. I’ve got to put my head down and go to work. This is a fresh start. I wasn’t able to do what I was capable of doing last year. I feel like I have a fresh start this year, so I’m going to go out there and ball out.”