All 32 teams bypassed Tyrell Williams, a 6-4, 205-pound wide receiver whose 4.38 40-speed also made him a track star at Western Oregon, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
That mistake proved to be a gift to the Bolts, who signed Williams immediately. In fact, they were the only team who offered the wide receiver a contract.
After making the 53-man roster and seeing the field on special teams in the season opener, the Chargers waived him as injuries necessitated the need to sign additional offensive linemen. Luckily, the 31 other teams continued to sleep on Williams, allowing the Bolts to re-sign him to the practice squad.
He eventually made his way back to the active roster later in the year, and the rest is history.
Williams is fresh off a breakout sophomore campaign in which he became only the 15th wideout in team history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. His six catches over 40 yards a tied for the most in the NFL, while his 13 catches over 25 yards ranked fifth. Meanwhile, his 468 yards after the catch also ranked sixth among wideouts.
Perhaps it’s the way he came into the league, but Williams refuses to buy into his own hype.
He’s had to fight for this opportunity, even though he understands why he went undrafted two years ago. Although he was a four-time All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference pick, and left as the school’s all-time leader with 165 catches for 2,792 yards and 21 touchdowns, he acknowledges it came at tiny Western Oregon.
“I never thought I’d have this much success so quickly,” Williams said. “My goal was always to be a starter in this league, and it did happen quick. But I always believed in myself. We had so many good receivers when I came in, that I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity that I have had. Unfortunately, we had injuries, and I knew I had to be ready in case that happened. If they needed me, I couldn’t let there be any drop off.”
What’s more surprising to Williams is how no one picked him up after being waived early in the 2015 season. Ironically enough, he believes it was his performance in the final preseason game that clinched his spot on the Bolts’ roster, while also potentially scaring off other teams.
“I think about it all the time,” he admitted. “When I did get cut after Week 1, I was so surprised that nobody picked me up. But I bring it back to that last preseason game. I had a lot of drops. I had a big play that I think helped get me on this team, but I had about four or five drops. I had a terrible last game. But luckily, I turned a little stick route into a 75-yard touchdown. I think that’s what saved me. I think that’s what got me on the team here, but other teams just saw drops. They didn’t see what I was doing all of training camp, they only saw the drops.”
As he enters his third year, Williams knows the league is no longer sleeping on him. However, he doesn’t consider it an added challenge as teams paid him extra attention down the stretch last season.
“It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come, but my approach is the same. I feel like (Offensive Coordinator) Ken Whisenhunt puts us in positions to succeed each week. Last year, I felt the (extra attention) come gradually. So I don’t think it will be a big difference.”
Despite his success, Williams considers himself a work in progress. While he’s proven capable of wrecking a game, he emphasized a need to improve in a multitude of areas before considering himself a complete package.
“I still feel I have a lot to improve on. Stats-wise, I had a big year, but I still feel I have a lot I must work on. I have to get better on my routes, the way I get in and out of breaks, and I want to work on jump balls. There are little things I want to add.”
He’s done exactly that year over year.
Touted for his work ethic, Williams is often one of the last Chargers off the practice field. He’s picked up tips from teammates over the years, and has transformed into a film room junkie. Recently, he’s studied Stevie Johnson’s releases, as the former Bolt made a living fooling corners. He’s also watched Keenan Allen’s moves off the line of scrimmage in order to refine his own route-running ability.
“I know I need to get better. I need to get more separation. There are little things I need to do to gain separation so Philip (Rivers) is even more comfortable throwing it to me. So yeah, I have (had success), but I need to do more to be a complete player.”