Draft wide receiver rankings will vary as they get deeper into the position, but at the top, almost every ranking will have Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. Teams looking at the position in the first half of the first round will be working hard to have clarity on who belongs at #1 on that list, as they could get to make the call. Judging by the number of lists that put Williams #1, you’d think it would be difficult to separate these two. After examining both on Draft Breakdown, there is enough overlap and clear distinctions in their games to make what appears to me to be an easy call. I’ve organized my thoughts into three categories - areas where the two players are roughly equal, areas where Williams is superior, and areas where Davis is superior.
Corey Davis = Mike Williams
Athleticism - Neither one of these players are going to test out like Julio Jones, that’s part of the reason you don’t see either mentioned in the top five of mock drafts. Still, both are plus athletes in any wide receiver class. Davis is a little springier and might be slightly faster, but Williams is a more explosive leaper and his athleticism is accentuated with a more rugged edge. Davis will have a better three-cone, Williams a better vert.
Long Speed - Like I said, neither one of these players are going to test out like Julio Jones. Neither will be a preferred NFL deep threat, and Williams didn’t even seem to be a clear primary deep threat at Clemson. Williams can win deep balls with his game at the catch point and Davis can create deep separation with a double move or break that gets the defensive back tongue-tied in his footwork, but neither would ever be classified as a burner by NFL standards.
Fluidity - This is another nitpicky issue that keeps this duo from being in top five consideration. Davis is long and angular and can be a bit stiff in his movement when compared to other wide receivers that go in the top 20 of the first round. Williams is thick and less flexible than Davis. Neither have glaring problems in this area, but much like with deep speed, both lack top-end fluid flexibility.
Hands - Neither prospect is immune from drops, but you will see more instances of the ball playing Williams and more inexplicable concentration lapses from Davis. Both give some plays away that they should be able to close the deal on without a problem.
Mike Williams > Corey Davis
Playing Big - Both of these wide receivers are going to measure out in the “big” wide receiver range - 6’2” or greater - but Williams gets a lot more mileage out of his size. He dominates on slants by getting inside position and putting his body between the defender and ball in flight. He can blot out his opponent like a solar eclipse once he gets airborne on a downfield pass. Davis’s size is less of a weapon or asset for him at the catch point and in routes, although he has other ways to win.
Strength - Williams plays with more strength in his routes and when the ball is in the air. He’s tougher to veer off his route and he’ll jostle with a defensive back running stride for stride, again leveraging off of his size. The combination of size and strength in play gives Williams superior position and the ability to assert his right to a lane without much resistance. Davis doesn’t play weak by any means, but Williams’ strength creates results more than Williams’ does.
Hand Engagement - It’s hard to knock Davis for this because he creates separation without hand-fighting and can use his hands effectively to fight the jam, but engaging and using his hands to strategically create separation and move the opponent comes naturally to Williams. It’s almost a crutch or a landmark on his route. Williams seems comfortable when his opponent is close to him when the ball is in the flight, because then it is easy to execute what I call the “NFL pushoff” to subtly create room (just don’t straighten your push-off arm, that draws the flag on Sundays). Williams is often the aggressor when the defensive back tries to press him, and when the ball is in flight. This will translate.
Game in Air/Adjustments/Leaping Ability - Davis is no slouch in the air, but Williams is at home on the high wire. He can seemingly float in the air for as long as he needs to and usually makes a natural and correct adjustment to the ball in flight. He can out leap opponents and even when his leap timing is off, he can win with his size and position. This is the cornerstone of Williams’ game and it serves him well on backshoulder throws. To be fair, we have tons of examples of this on Williams’ tape because he doesn’t separate with route running. It forces him to win contested balls more often than Davis. Williams is far from perfect in this area, failing to finish plays that he should at times, but he’s very advanced and a smart quarterback will rely on this in key moments.
Corey Davis > Mike Williams
Separation Upon Release - Williams will use his hands to get the spot on the field he wants, and he will try to outrun opponents, but it is rare to see him use his release to create a lot of space off of the snap. Davis, on the other hand, can use leverage and a first step to carve out a huge space against an off-balance opponent.
Route Running - Davis already has one of the more refined approaches to running routes that you will see in a prospect as they are entering the draft. He throttles down, changes speeds, breaks suddenly, and otherwise keeps the defensive back off-balance. Williams rarely tries to create separation with his route. This is one of the easiest and clearest ways to choose between these prospects. Davis has a foundation of route running and otherwise “playing” his opponent that mimics what is necessary against more physically gifted and experienced NFL corners. Williams wins with his superior physical tools and abilities, which should continue to grow and have some utility at the next level, but be rendered less operative against superior NFL corners.
Sideline Awareness - It’s small, but Williams will miss a play or two with an imprecise sense of where he is on the field, while Davis makes it look easy to get both feet in when he can’t look down to locate the sideline.
Run After Catch - Williams can create after the catch as a strong runner, breaking weak tackle attempts and often requiring more than one defender to take him down. Davis is almost Williams’ equal as a strong runner, but he also has a stiff arm and more importantly, reliable moves and strategies to elude the first tackler. Williams isn’t a nuanced thinker after the catch, while Davis is often setting up his opponent (just as he does when running routes). This isn’t a negative for Williams, it’s just a bigger positive for Davis.
Blocking - With Williams penchant for confrontation as a receiver, you’d think he would relish the opportunity to block, but there is more good tape on Davis moving his opponent around on run plays and screen passes than Williams.
Coordination - Williams has superior body control in the air, but he still mistimes leaps and makes less than optimal plays on the ball. He falls down more often in his routes. Davis has fewer coordination lapses and appears to be more in control when his feet are on the ground.
Suddenness - Whether it’s his first step off the snap, his break to create separation in a route, or his move to elude a would-be tackler, Davis can execute more crisp movement to serve his game than Williams.
Williams will find corners to bully in his routes at the next level, but he will also struggle against more technically sound corners, and more physically gifted corners. It is questionable whether Williams will develop the skills to amplify the value of his natural ability in the air and combative nature when engaging with the corner. He is compatible with “throw the receiver open” quarterbacks, but won’t fit in every offense or orientation of attack.
Davis is just as impressive physically, but his traits weren’t as front and center in “where he wins” (nod to Josh Norris) as his skills. He is compatible with a larger range of quarterbacks and offenses, and his game offers much more opportunity for growth. Even though he won’t work out at the combine, he should be the easy pick as WR1 this year.