Simply by returning to the field a year after fracturing a bone in his neck, Clemson Tigers wide receiver provided the perfect capper to a day in which some of the biggest stars in college football proved themselves recovered from prior horrific injuries.
Following the lead of Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner — who scored a touchdown less than a year removed from a cancer diagnosis — as well as Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb and Washington Huskies wide receiver/returner John Ross (each coming off torn ACLs), Williams erased concerns about his health and forced scouts to instead recall his intoxicating blend of size, speed and body control.
Williams, you may recall, suffered the injury on the season-opening drive last year against Wofford, hitting his head on the goal post following a four-yard touchdown reception. Though Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced the next day that an MRI taken of Williams showed that the injury was not considered life or career-threatening, the talented receiver was lost for the rest of the 2015 season, taking away the Tigers’ most talented pass-catcher.
Williams looked no worse for the wear Saturday night against Auburn Tigers , however, accounting for 72 percent of Watson’s passing yards at one point, including six receptions for 105 yards by halftime. Better yet, several of Williams’ grabs were of the highlight reel variety. Of course, play-making receivers are nothing new at Clemson, which has produced freakish talents like Sammy Watkins , DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant in recent years.
From the start, Williams proved he belonged with this group, playing in 13 games as a true freshman and even starting three times. The 20 grabs for 316 yards and three scores he caught as a freshman in 2013 were just a harbinger for his sophomore campaign, when Williams earned All-ACC honors with 57 grabs for a team-high 1,030 yards and six scores.
At an imposing 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Williams most resembles the Pittsburgh Steelers ‘ talented but troubled Bryant, a 6-foot-4, 211-pound speedster currently suspended by the NFL for substance abuse. Like Bryant, Williams accelerates fluidly for a big man, shifting his weight easily at the line of scrimmage to shake corners attempting to press him. Once the ball is in the air, however, Williams looks more like the Houston Texans standout, Hopkins, contorting his body to adjust and using his length and body control to shield defenders from the ball. Not surprisingly, several of his best grabs came on accurate back-shoulder fades from Watson.
Receivers as tall as Williams often struggle with low passes. The Tigers’ star wideout, however, showed impressive flexibility and concentration to pick up a couple of low throws from Watson off the turf, including one juggling reception in the second quarter with a defender draped on him.
While Williams’ return to action was largely positive, it wasn’t perfect. Auburn defensive backs were able to slip their hand between his on two potential scoring grabs, deflecting throws that could have gone for touchdowns. Williams flat-out dropped a perfectly thrown slant for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fortunately for Clemson, Watson found gutty slot receiver Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown just two plays later, giving the Tigers a 19-6 lead.
Along with obviously proving his health all season, the ability to convert these “money” plays will be something scouts will want to see from Williams. He could be given a bit of a “mulligan” for the drops given the nerves of his first game back.
If the polish returns to his game, as expected, Williams could prove Clemson’s next first round pick and a legitimate challenger to Southern California Trojans ‘s JuJu Smith-Schuster as the top receiver prospect in the country.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Clemson’s Mike Williams erases health concerns, boosts NFL stock