Spotlight: Mike Williams

posted by Cecil Lammey on Jul 17th

Cecil Lammey's thoughts

The Buccaneers added their quarterback of the future when they selected Josh Freeman in the first-round of the 2009 NFL Draft, but they needed a youth movement at the wide receiver position. That's exactly what they did this offseason, when they chose to let veteran WR Antonio Bryant go via free agency. They added not one, but two talented wide receivers in the 2010 NFL Draft. In the second-round they added Arrelious Benn from Illinois, and then in the fourth-round they added Mike Williams from Syracuse. This duo should be the starting tandem for years to come, but the Bucs aren't just going to hand them the starting jobs. Both rookies will have to earn their playing time by showing what they can do in training camp and preseason.

Arrelious Benn reminds many in the scouting community of Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall. Like Marshall, Benn is a large receiver who is difficult to bring down with the ball in his hands. Benn plays with an aggressive 'my ball' mentality and has the strength to run through arm tackles in the open field. The big receiver knows how to use his frame to shield defenders away from the ball, and he consistently squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage - presenting the largest target possible for his quarterback. He could become a trusted target for Josh Freeman if he becomes a more polished route runner.

Mike Williams has first-round talent, and was arguably one of the most talented receivers in this entire draft class. He fell to the fourth-round because of character concerns from his days at Syracuse. After missing the entire 2008 season due to academic reasons, Williams returned to Syracuse but was suspended for one game for violating team rules. He decided to walk away and quit the football team altogether. He's got a size/speed combination that will make him difficult to cover downfield. Williams can get on top of a defense in a hurry with his deep speed, and has the athleticism to bring in errant passes. In addition to his receiving skills, Williams is also a very capable downfield blocker.

Fantasy owners know the Bucs young duo could add value and depth to their bench, but which receiver goes first in fantasy drafts?

Currently Arrelious Benn is the first Bucs WR off the board at WR59, with Mike Williams close behind at WR68.

Let's take a closer look at this situation to determine a front runner in this competition.

Questions about Williams and Benn coming into 2010: Who will get the most targets/receptions in 2010?

It's hard to say whom Josh Freeman will favor, but both receivers could end up with near equal production this year. Benn is the reliable underneath receiver, who makes his impact with consistent hands and run after the catch ability. Williams gets up to top speed in a hurry, and should end up playing the 'Antonio Bryant' role for the Bucs when they want to attack a defense deep. Both players are good targets in the end zone because of their size and athleticism. Williams could get more long touchdowns, while Benn is perfect for 'jump ball' passes when the Bucs are in the red zone. I anticipate Benn getting more receptions this year, but Williams should have better yards per reception as the team's primary deep target.

Can Mike Williams stay out of trouble?

Williams is one of the most physically gifted receivers to come out of college this year, but found himself off many team's draft boards because of his off field issues. Williams may have learned his lesson, and realizes that he must prove himself (and then some) now that he's in the pros. Every football player hates a quitter, and Williams has to overcome that label after walking away from the Syracuse football program. In addition to staying out of trouble, Williams needs to stay focused during the entire game. Too often in college he would zone in and out of games, and his production would suffer because of it.

Does the system in Tampa Bay favor one receiver over the other?

Yes, the Bucs are running more of a West-Coast system this year. That style of offense relies on quick decision making from the quarterback and utilizes the short passing game to keep the chains moving. That is a perfect fit for Arrelious Benn and his ability to do damage on underneath routes. Benn needs to work on getting off the line of scrimmage quicker, but is fearless when going over the middle of the defense. Because of his size he is also very hard to bring down with the ball in his hands. Mike Williams will still be targeted, but doesn't work as well on short routes. His job will be to stretch the defense, sometimes as a target and sometimes as a decoy to open up routes behind him.

Is there enough fantasy production here for both to be fantasy factors?

Both of these rookies aren't going to be huge fantasy factors this year, but they could make for fine backup fantasy wide receivers. The Bucs want to run the football, use safe throws in the short passing game, and play sound defense to win ball games. Combined, both of these rookies could account for 1,200-1,500 yards receiving with 9-12 touchdown receptions. That's not enough to plug them into your lineup every week, and they should not be relied on as anything more than bye week and injury replacements this year.

What role will veterans Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, and Reggie Brown play?

Michael Clayton has been a disappointment after his breakout rookie season in 2004. Maurice Stovall is a sizeable target, but lacks the elite skill set to make much of an impact at the pro level. Reggie Brown comes over to Tampa after underachieving during his whole career in Philadelphia. He actually has been really impressing coaches, and is the lone veteran in this situation who could put up decent numbers for the Bucs if he finally makes the most of his potential. Second-year pro Sammie Stroughter will be the slot receiver, which relegates this veterans to limited playing time (in a likely rotation) when the Bucs use four and five wide receiver sets.

Will Josh Freeman avoid the sophomore slump?

This is the biggest question for the Buccaneers offense this year. They have a solid ground game featuring Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward, but defenses should stack the line to stop the run and force Freeman to beat them through the air. Freeman struggled during his rookie season and made a ton of mistakes. However, I love the way he kept fighting through his struggles and never let his mistakes hurt his confidence on the field. The improved weapons in the passing game, and the experience from last year should make Freeman a much better quarterback this year. He's still raw as a prospect and won't put up monster numbers for the Bucs, but it's unlikely he'll regress either.


  • Williams has excellent speed and acceleration
  • He's polished and can set up defenders with his routes
  • Has a rare opportunity to play right away given the Bucs youth and rebuilding process


  • Williams needs to fight through jams better, press coverage can get to him
  • Shows lapses in concentration
  • Williams has a questionable work ethic, and ran into trouble that led to his being dismissed from the team

Final thoughts

The Buccaneers added Benn and Williams to be their starting duo for years to come. Their upside is high, but it's rare for rookie receivers to have much of an impact their first year. So far during minicamp Williams has been the talk of the town, while Benn has struggled to pick up the playbook. I expect both of these rookies to start in week one and get better as the season goes along. Benn should get most of his targets on short and underneath routes so he can use his phenomenal run after the catch ability to hurt defenses. Williams was often compared to Antonio Bryant during his college career, and now will help fill the void left in the Bucs offense from Bryant's departure. Tampa Bay isn't a high powered offense, but they are putting the pieces in place to be a dangerous one in the near future.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Even larger rookie has some big play potential but I think it'll take him a little more time to find his way into the NFL game. Things such as route running and handling NFL Db's will take a little time but he'll also make some plays with his decent size.

RJS113 said:

I had the chance to attend a film session with Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson on Saturday, where he broke down film and answered questions.

Olson basically said his favorite football player is Sammie Stroughter. He comes to work with a smile on his face, and works his ### off the all day. He comes in early, and stays late. Olson said that if someone asked him for a picture of what the ideal football player was, it would be of Sammie Stroughter. He went on and on about how impressed he was with Sammie. This wasn't just coach speak. Olson loves this kid. Also said that he doesn't think Stroughter has dropped a single pass this offseason so far.

When asked about who the most surprising rookie has been, Olson said Mike Williams. But as impressive as he has been, Williams' play on the field hasn't surprised him at all. He already knew Williams has skills. But Olson has been blown away with how much of a pleasure Williams is to be around. He talked about how he had character flags heading into the draft, but thinks he was just a little immature with how he handled the situation at Syracuse. He said he's easy to talk to and get along with. Has been a great teammate.

Anyways, as to my projections. I expect Mike Williams and Sammie Stroughter to be the starters opening day. Williams is by far the most talented wide receiver on the team, and I think he makes a big impact as a rookie. I think Stroughter will play the Wes Welker role in Tampa. He'll be a starter, but will move to the slot when the Bucs go 3 wide. I expect Sammie to catch a lot of passes. As far as Benn, I like his upside, but I don't see him making a huge impact as a rookie. Reggie Brown has looked good in camp, and I think him, Stovall, and Benn will battle for the 3rd WR spot.

socrates said:

As for the pair of rookies, I really like Mike Williams. If he shows he has matured, he may have a bright future ahead of him. I still think he will produce little this season, however. 30/450/3

Benn, on the other hand, strikes me as more NFL ready, and the better overall prospect. I see Benn as an early starter. 50/800/7

Mike Williams projections

Cecil Lammey47681400
Message board consensus45663400