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Ex-Syracuse WR Williams determined to become 'steal of the draft'

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Chris O'Meara / Associated Press
Mike Williams flashed his immense potential at Syracuse, but off-field concerns leave his draft value in doubt.


"I guess the people in the NFL want to get the right guy when you look at the wide receiver position."

-- Former Syracuse wide receiver and 2010 draft prospect Mike Williams

2010 NFL Draft preview
NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan takes a look at the top players in each position group for this year's draft.

» Monday: Quarterbacks
» Tuesday: Running backs
» Wednesday: Receivers/tight ends
» Thursday: Offensive linemen
» Friday: Defensive linemen
» Saturday: Linebackers
» Sunday: Defensive backs

Every player enters the NFL with some measure of uncertainty. Rarely has the top end of a position group entered a draft waving as many red flags as the wide receivers of 2010.

Be it character concerns (Dez Bryant), size (Golden Tate), or playing in a non-traditional offense (Demaryius Thomas), this year's crop of receivers has prompted enough reluctance from coaching staffs that only two might be chosen in the first round. While that reticence might seem semi-problematic for guys at one of the NFL's glamour positions, teams could also land big-time value by nabbing a talented pass catcher in the second round or beyond.

Williams might be one of those guys.

"I tell my mom every day that I'm going to be the steal of this draft," Williams said. "I believe in those words. I have a chip on my shoulder. I'm going to prove to people that I'm not this guy that people think I am."

At 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, Williams has deep-threat speed, imposing strength and red zone prowess, making him the prototype NFL wideout. Double teams don't mean much because he's used to them -- he was Syracuse's No. 1 offensive option -- and he was typically better than anyone trying to defend him. Williams had two monster games last season, against Northwestern (11 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns) and South Florida (13 for 186 and two TDs). In 29 career games at Syracuse, Williams had 133 receptions for 2,044 yards and 20 touchdowns.

For a time, Williams was viewed as highly as Bryant and Thomas, the probable two first-round wide receivers. Even now, in the eyes of some talent evaluators, Williams has first-round traits.

But Williams won't be selected that high because of self-inflicted wounds that have teams wondering if his on-field potential is negated by off-field concerns. There is a possibility that he could go as high as the second round, but opinions are varied.

Williams was suspended as a junior in 2008 due to academic reasons for allegedly cheating in class. He played in seven games in 2009 but didn't finish the season because, depending on which side is talking, he quit or he was dismissed. Williams said he didn't quit, but had his intentions misunderstood by the coaching staff and was dismissed.

The reasons why don't mean much.

The fact that Williams didn't do what was needed to remain in good standing has some teams on edge, some teams taking him off their draft boards and some teams very interested in his services -- and they haven't been afraid in expressing all those opinions to him.

Williams said he's heard it straight from coaches, general mangers and others on the more than five visits he's taken, including to Tampa Bay and San Diego. His desire for the game has been questioned, which he said is the biggest mistake any team could make.

"I love the game," Williams said. "This is what I do. I love playing football and when people doubt me, that makes me hungrier. Some teams think what they think of me and figure this is who he is. Some of the teams I've (met with), the visits changed their minds and they seem to know the real Mike Williams. It's mixed. Both ways, no matter what, it helps being there and talking with them so they can at least make up their minds speaking to me instead of going on what they heard."

One GM said players like Williams pose an odd dilemma in some draft meetings. Sure, it could end up being a great value getting a quality talent after the first round. But it can also prove to be a mistake if that player proves difficult to coach and brings more negativity to the team than even a late-round pick is worth.

"Each NFL team has different tolerance levels for character risk, so each team will consider the risk/reward involved in each pick," said the GM, whose team is not interested in Williams. "Bottom line: The player must have enough talent or value for the team to assume the risk."

That talent is why Bryant, who played fewer games at Oklahoma State last season (three) than Williams did at Syracuse (seven), will be selected in the first round. He is a game changer and was often times the best player on the field. Questions about his character don't match up to the answers about his ability.

Thomas, at 6-3, 224, also is a likely first rounder, despite playing in an option offense at Georgia Tech where he didn't get many opportunities to catch the ball. A broken foot during training heading into the NFL Scouting Combine hasn't allowed him to showcase himself for scouts, but won't hinder what they've seen on film -- a big-timer who averaged 25 yards per catch last season.

Though he's only 5-10, Tate's overall toughness, collegiate production at Notre Dame, and strength in the return game put him on the fringe of the first round. Same with Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn.

Williams? Nobody knows where he'll go, but he's out to prove to whoever gives him a chance that their investment won't be wasted.

"I want to get the opportunity to play in the National Football League," said Williams, who will watch the draft at his home in Buffalo with his mother and other family members. "It's what I dreamed about. I am going to prove to a lot of people how much this means to me. Some team is going to end up getting the steal of the draft."

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