Clemson possesses the best wide receiver corps in the country. We told you about their slot receiver, Artavis Scott, who presents a serious matchup problem against Ohio State’s biggest weakness of their defense — covering the slot. What makes Scott even more dangerous, is that a lot of defensive attention goes to his teammate, Mike Williams.
Williams has the most NFL-ready wide receiver body in college football — as he stands at 6’3”, 225 lbs — and he plays like it. After suffering an unfortunate season-ending neck fracture in 2015, he bounced back in a big way in 2016. Per CFB Film Room, Williams has recorded 85 receptions for 1,170 yards and 10 touchdowns on 123 targets.
Looking at those statistics, most would think Williams is a slick slot receiver, who uses his speed and precise route running to gain separation. But in fact, the Clemson wideout is in the mold of Anquan Boldin, as he uses his frame to box out defenders to utilize his extensive catch radius and pluck the ball from poor defensive backs. He’s primarily an outside receiver, who stays outside the hashes, as you can see below:
Here's a look at where Clemson targets WR Mike Williams and how he fares in certain situations pic.twitter.com/XwhcFpMVs6— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) December 2, 2016
What makes Williams stand out from the rest of the receivers in college football, is his physicality. He is legitimately a man amongst boys on the perimeter. Of his 85 receptions, 14 of those were contested by the defensive back. To give context, Jordan Leggette has the second most contested receptions with 5. Deshaun Watson clearly trusts Williams to come down with the ball, since he targeted Williams 31 times with the defense back draped over his receiver. The second most contested targets on the team are Deon Cain’s eight.
Here are two routes that are borderline unstoppable, due to Williams’ size, strength and reliable hands.
First of all, this is a dime by Deshaun Watson. South Carolina played soft man-to-man coverage on the outside, respecting Williams’ deep threat ability. As Williams took off from the line of scrimmage, the corner shaded to the inside, most likely taking away a deep post. Williams got onto the cornerback’s toes and got a step on the outside. As the ball hung up in the air, the defensive back got into good position to make a play on the ball. Williams went up and snatched the ball at its high point -- fighting through the corner’s arm -- and brought it down for six. You can’t guard this.
The back shoulder throw has turned into one of the more reliable throws in football -- especially when a team possesses a legit quarterback and a big perimeter receiving option. The Patriots execute this play to perfection with Rob Gronkowski split wide with Tom Brady throwing him the ball. It’s based off the quarterback’s accuracy and the receiver’s body type and catch radius.
With Watson and Williams, this route is borderline unstoppable. Going up against Auburn’s biggest corner in Carlton Davis — who checks in at 6’1”, 195 — the Tigers still weren’t wary of trying this play. Williams runs a basic 9-route (vertical), looks inside at the quarterback near the sticks and then flips his body towards the sideline to box out the defender to make the grab. Watson places the ball where only his guy can get it and it’s an automatic first down. Since the Buckeyes do not possess a corner that can matchup size wise with Williams, they’ll just have to pray for an errant throw from Watson.
Yards after contact
Per CFB Film Room, 46 of Williams’ 85 grabs have moved the chains and 316 of his yardage has came after contact. He is the type of receiver who looks for contact and will run through you after the catch.
Against South Carolina, Mike Williams looked like a man possessed. After doing his best Randy Moss impression (above) on the fade route, Watson hit Williams on a simple 10-yard slant -- that wasn’t ran precisely, he just took advantage of soft coverage — and was hit immediately by the corner at the 8-yard line. The safety decided to make a business decision by not hitting Williams, while he took the corner on a piggy back ride into the end zone. This touchdown is one of the most beastly plays in recent memory and it displays his strength and physicality after the catch.
Mike Williams is the best receiver that the Ohio State defense will face all year and frankly, it’s not very close. He’s a potential top-10 draft selection and is the most NFL-ready wideout in this class. Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley have been excellent on the perimeter, but they have yet to be truly tested deep or by a receiver as big and skilled as Williams. Since getting burnt for 14 receptions in the Orange Bowl by Sammy Watkins, the Buckeyes have found creative ways to shutdown top tier receivers (Amari Cooper). The problem with this Clemson team though, is that Williams is not their only elite option at receiver. Do they man-up Lattimore on Williams, push Conley inside on Scott and let Damon Webb cover Deon Cain? Lattimore vs. Williams could be a battle between two future top-10 NFL Draft picks and the best individual matchup of the College Football Playoffs.
The Clemson receivers present a serious matchup problem and one would expect the Heisman runner-up to test it early and often.