Obscure Studs of the NFL

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Next: Doug Baldwin

 

Many of my favorite players in the NFL are late round picks or undrafted free agents. Combined with the surprising skill sets these players have, I gravitate towards a good story, something that shows through dedication and perseverance, someone is making their dreams come true.

Today, that story is San Diego Chargers’ 2nd year receiver Tyrell Williams.

From Western Oregon, Williams was undrafted in 2015 before being signed by the Chargers. Waived during the season, he was reclaimed and promoted onto San Diego’s practice squad, and barely saw action all season until the final game of the season, where he caught 2 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown (on a busted coverage). A nice moment, but not the sign of another key addition to the Chargers’ receiving corps, right?

Enter 2016. Receiver Stevie Johnson was placed on injured reserve before the season even began, and Keenan Allen tore his ACL during Week 1. These turn of events were bittersweet, allowing Williams to be promoted as the #3 receiver behind Dontrelle Inman and Travis Benjamin.

Enter Week 11. All of a sudden Williams is the Chargers’ leading receiver and a consistent fantasy option, with 43 catches for 720 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 16.7 yards per reception. In 3 of his last 6 games he has eclipsed 100 receiving yards.

It’s a great story, and what makes it great is that the work is legit; Tyrell Williams is a quality wide receiver.

The Chargers are a YAC heavy offense consistently running short crossing routes among other things. As you may have guessed, Williams has played a huge part in these shallow crossing routes. Williams is very talented, and at 6 ft 4 and 204 lb he is a big receiver, making him a favorable target for Philip Rivers.

He is also a sweet YAC receiver. In the GIF above, Rivers throws to Williams on (what else but) a shallow crossing route. Williams makes a couple of impressive moves against the Falcons defense after the catch, using a jab move to create space outside before making a terrific cut and finally stepping out of bounds.

In the above GIF, Williams does an excellent jab to get open, catching the slant pass from Rivers. Williams’ ability to drag for yards makes him tough to tackle, and it shows here. Notice the subtle cut outside as Williams is able to get a couple more yards after the catch.

In this sequence (all occurring on the same play), Williams further shows his ability after the catch. First of all, he does a nice job of using aggression before the catch to come back to the ball. Immediately, he plants his right foot and springs forward and through defenders while using his feet to further get YAC. This type of awareness and playmaking is incredible for an undrafted player, and Williams’ aggression before and after the catch point stands out.

 

On a team filled with wide receivers, Williams’ ball skills catch the eye. The two catches above are difficult ones at that. The first one is extremely impressive not because of how Williams plays the catch, but how he gets there, doing an excellent cut on his route to get open. Rivers has been excellent this season, and is a quarterback that consistently anticipates openings, making his receivers better. This is a great throw and a great catch

The 2nd play is thrown a bit behind Williams, who manages to still move in stride regardless of the throw. He’s also standing directly into the sun’s glare while in stride, so his concentration and focus on the football, in addition to the adjustment he has to make, stick out.

 

In his first full season, Williams is already a really polished route runner. He understands how to play the routes and how to get himself open for Rivers to throw him the ball to. Most undrafted wide receivers, and even high draft picks, fail to understand how to create separation because they came from favorable offensive schemes in college, or offer explosiveness but lack consistency. As a result, we see a lot of expectations flush down the drain.

Thankfully, Williams’ route running ability is more advanced than even some first round picks. In the first GIF, stutter steps and pretends to block on the play. This baits the receiver and allows Williams enough time to distance himself. Rivers’ throw is not precise, but fortunately for him Williams makes a great adjustment, managing to not only make the catch, but also keep his feet in bounds. His route running ability is further shown in the 2nd GIF, Williams gets a boost off another jab at the line of scrimmage, getting him open on another easy slant pass from Rivers.

Like a tight end, Williams is able to box out defenders, making him a good target for converting first downs. In the above play, Williams’ size on the matchup allows him to box out his foe, converting the first down. Williams is what I like to call a “Crabtree Receiver”, or CR. Named after Michael Crabtree, this describes a wide receiver that is built like a tight end but has the athleticism, more expansive list of routes, and skill set of any regular wide receiver. Williams’ frame allows him to be perfect for short distance throws and conversions because of this.

 

Finally, Williams’ frame in addition makes him a 50/50 receiver, expanding his skill set. On each of these 2 plays, Williams plays the ball beautifully, making difficult adjustments to complete the connections. The first GIF offers nice ball security, while the 2nd is a fantastic over the shoulder catch at his neck. As I’ve said in the past, it’s how you play the catch point that matters, and Williams’ ability and awareness at this point shine.

 

Conclusion

In addition to being a feel good story, Tyrell Williams is a very good wide receiver with an impressive skill set for an undrafted player. His frame allows him to work as a quick option on slant/shallow crossing routes, his route running skills combined with his frame allow him to win matchups and create separation, and his superb ball skills in addition make him a favorable downfield target.

Williams is currently 8th in receiving yards and 10th in yards per reception, without any fumbles so far (knock on wood). This is no fluke. Williams has been fortunate to have the opportunity he has, but the talent and efficiency he possesses is the reason he isn’t going anywhere.

 

(Featured Image via denverpost.com)

 

Obscure Studs of the NFL

Previous: Jamison Crowder

Next: Doug Baldwin

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