May 7,2010

Mike Williams: Fourth Round, Second Chance, First String

Casinos have a reputation for getting people in trouble. Rookie WR Mike Williams knows this all too well.

While at Syracuse he quickly became a star on the football field, leading the team with 461 receiving yards as a freshman and catching 60 passes for 837 yards and ten touchdowns in his sophomore year. His success in the classroom, however, was less than impressive. In June, the summer before his junior year, Williams was suspended from the team for the entire 2008 season for breaking the Academic Integrity Policy.

Before the start of his senior year, Williams apologized and assured the student body that he was a changed man, stating “I learned that everything is not given to you. You have to work for everything. Me being suspended helped me. It helped me realize that I’m like everybody else.” With what appeared to be a new attitude and outlook on his collegiate career, Williams crushed the first six weeks of the 2009 season, single-handedly carrying the offense with 45 receptions for 712 yards and six touchdowns.

That was before he doubled down at the Turning Stone Casino. At roughly 5:30am on November 1st, Williams and three teammates got into a car accident on their way home from the casino. No one was hurt and there was no alcohol involved, but Williams picked up his second curfew violation. Orange head coach Doug Marrone got fed up and made a move to suspend the troubled WR. Depending on who you believe, Williams beat Marrone to the punch and quit the team. Whether he was kicked off or quit is immaterial. What matters is that he, once again, let down his team and fans while also earning himself a “problem child” reputation.

Tampa Bay wide receivers coach Eric Yarber – who certainly knows problem children, having coached both Terrell Owens and Chad OchoCinco – doesn’t agree. In fact, he’s been one of Williams’ biggest champions, admitting the college star was the third-rated receiver on the Bucs’ draft board behind Dez Bryant (Dallas Cowboys) and Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos). “I don’t think he’s a gamble at all,” said Yarber. Adding, “We’ve done a lot of research on him, and we’ve talked to a lot of people. And we’re very comfortable.”

Williams talking to friends on his front lawn after being selected by the Bucs in the fourth round

That must be true because on April 24th the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a steal of a deal and selected Mike Williams in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. Many claim that Williams is a first round talent, but his checkered past and issues with authority figures scared off a lot of teams. By the fourth round, however, Tampa Bay – much like Mike Williams – was getting desperate. With Antonio Bryant gone to Bengals, the Bucs were frantic to beef up their virtually nonexistent receiving core. Having already selected Arrelious Benn in the second round and seeing that Williams was still available, Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik made a very shrewd business decision and rolled the dice on the former Orangeman.

Assuming Williams can stay out of trouble and Benn can stay healthy, both are expected to start the 2010 season. I’d look for Williams to pull ahead of Benn statistically in the first half to two thirds of the season. I’m not sure, however, that this kid can handle all seventeen weeks without cracking. That being said, I think Morris and Yarber will do an excellent job of mentoring and inspiring their newest acquisition. I’d also look for an uptick in Josh Freeman‘s fantasy value (can it go anywhere but up?) now that he some legitimate down field weapons.

Ultimately, the next few weeks/months/years are what Williams makes of them. His ability is undeniable, his potential is huge and barring a totally disastrous training camp his shot at redemption is within reach. Like Tampa Bay, I recommend scooping this kid up in later rounds while the investment in minimal… he may very well yield a high reward.