Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will "dare to compare" prospects to NFL players throughout the college football season. This week, he provides a scouting report and comp for Clemson's Mike Williams, a top WR prospect who intends to enter the 2017 NFL Draft. His coach, Dabo Swinney, says he's a more complete prospect than ex-CU WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Williams and the Tigers will face Virginia Tech on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game.
Clemson's Mike Williams was electric last week against rival South Carolina, as he racked up 100 yards and three touchdowns before halftime. Williams came into 2015 with loads of well-earned hype, but his season ended almost immediately after it started due to a neck injury he sustained on the first Clemson drive of the year. A healthy 2016 season has allowed Williams to show what he's capable of. Here's his scouting report and comp.
Has the height, weight (6-foot-3, 225 pounds, per school measurements) and speed NFL teams covet in a wide receiver. Plays with good vertical push into his routes. Williams has shown the ability to operate on all three levels of the field (short, intermediate and deep) and is well known for his willingness to work the middle of the field. In fact, Williams appears to operate with little to no fear of the traffic that is waiting for him between the hashes. He does a nice job of attacking throws and putting the ball away before taking the big hit.
Williams is phenomenal at finding the ball and working back to it on comebacks and back-shoulder throws. He's able to hit the brakes, create some separation with his hands and then square up to secure the catch. Williams' catch radius is as impressive as any in college football. He can drop all the way down to cradle a worm burner (low throw). Williams is an angular route-runner with sneaky build-up speed to climb over cornerbacks late in vertical routes. Williams has had a second-half surge this season. He's gained 100 yards or more in 4 of his last 6 games while snaring 7 touchdowns during that span.
Williams could have a hard time beating press coverage. He struggles to disengage quickly once a strong jam lands on his chest and rides into the route with him. Despite being a natural hands-catcher, Williams has struggled with focus issues at times.
While Williams puts together solid vertical and short routes, it's his intermediate routes that need improvement. Williams is upright into his breaks and lacks sharp cuts at the top of his stems. On tape, it's clear that he has build-up speed downfield, but lacks the big second gear to run under the long ball.
While he was given medical clearance to return and has shown no ill effects from his 2015 neck injury, teams will want to see him check out as healthy at the NFL Scouting Combine before they get too excited about his talent.
Wide receivers seem to be getting bigger each season, but Williams still has rare size for the position and it can be tough to find a physical match for him. While he's not a burner by any stretch, he has the ability to win the deep ball with excellent ball skills and upper-echelon ball-tracking skills. And as for being able to get to throws outside his frame, Williams' catch radius is everything a team could want from a WR1.
I think I found the right guy for his comp -- Plaxico Burress. Burress was 6-5, 231 and ran in the high 4.5-seconds range (40-yard dash) coming out of college. However, what Burress lacked in speed, he made up for with his ability to pluck the ball out of the air. Burress was mostly a two-level wide receiver and that should end up being the case with Williams as well. Additional play strength was a need for both guys, as prospects, but their ability to become scary red-zone factors is yet another similarity between the two wideouts.