It did not take Clemson long to capitalize on Jadar Johnson’s interception of a Jake Bentley pass in the Tigers’ annual grudge match against rival South Carolina in last November’s 56-7 thumping. In fact, it took just three plays, the final one coming when Mike Williams out-jumped a Gamecock defensive back to snare a 34-yard touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson.
Williams just went over the helpless Gamecock defender and took the football at its highest point. The touchdown not only had the 81,542 fans that packed inside Memorial Stadium going nuts, but it also had the 20 or so NFL scouts that were in the press box salivating.
At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, scouts are already in love with the Clemson wide receiver’s measurables, but when they see him go up and highpoint the football the way he did against South Carolina, it puts him in a different class.
Williams’ raw physical skills to go along with his vertical jump and his hands make him the most sought after receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“Mike Williams is not playing 50-50 (balls), he is probably playing 80-20,” ESPN’s NFL analyst Jon Gruden said. “If you throw something in the air, he is probably getting it. He has great hang time. He has an incredible vertical leap, and really just real good plan strength.”
Williams is expected to be the next big thing at wide receiver from Clemson, where it has become known as Wide Receiver U. Dabo Swinney’s program has already produced All-Pro receiver Deandre “Nuk” Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown and Adam Humphries.
“I think when you look at the Clemson wide receivers, especially when you look at Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, they have a history and a pipeline of producing down the field, vertical, go get it, 50-50 jumped ball receivers,” Gruden said. “They are committed to it at Clemson and they are great at it. That is why they are holding the trophy.”
Williams helped lead the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years as he caught three big-time passes in the national championship game to beat Alabama, including a 4-yard pass from Watson where he once again out-jumped the defender.
He later went up and got a 50-50 ball on the Tigers’ next to last scoring drive to set up a one-yard touchdown from running back Wayne Gallman, while he did it again on the game-winning drive for a 24-yard gain.
Williams finished the game with eight catches for 94 yards and a touchdown in the 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide. Gruden does not see many flaws in Williams’ game overall and neither does many in the NFL.
The Clemson receiver is scheduled to be picked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 18 overall in the first round of the draft, which will begin on Thursday night from Philadelphia, Pa.
“I just think he needs to get in a huddle and go in motion and line up in some different positions and run a new route tree. Maybe some things he has not run before,” Gruden said. “I think that is the biggest challenge that he will have, but he performed in critical moments in a big way. He has shown me that he is a guy that can really be a force in those red-zone, 50-50, 80-20, whatever we are calling them now, jump-ball situations.”