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Chargers Should Bring WR Mike Williams Back in 2022

The receiver has done everything asked of him the last two seasons.

One of the priorities for the Chargers when they begin to look at their free agents is wide receiver Mike Williams. He is coming off his fifth-year option and will be looking for a payday that he earned in 2021.

Coming into this season, Williams was viewed as one of the better down-the-field receivers. He had put on a highlight reel the previous two seasons with incredible catches in Mexico City, New Orleans, and Denver. They all happened in the fourth quarter and gave the Chargers a chance to win the game.

That is all he was, though.

When Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi were hired, they thought Williams could have a more significant role in the offense. Having worked in New Orleans for years, Lombardi thought Williams could play in a role similar to pro bowl receiver Michael Thomas.

Staley met with every player individually when they all came back to the building, and he explained to Williams their vision for him.

“The first time that I talked to Coach Staley, he was saying how in the past, playing against me, they wanted to take the deep ball away because they noticed that I wasn’t catching many short passes,” Williams explained. “He said that he wanted to flip the script and get me a lot of in-breaks, a lot of slants, a lot of smokes, to get the ball in my hands. I’m a big body, physical receiver, so I feel like I can play with the ball in my hands and make plays like that.”

It was clear the Chargers wanted to get Williams involved early in week one. He had two catches for 20 yards on the opening drive. He also had a crucial catch towards the end of the game on third-and-seven that kept the drive alive to kill the clock and come out victorious.

When they went to Kansas City in week three, the offense showed more of what Williams could do. He was catching slant, out, and deep passes. He had seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, with both of them coming in the fourth quarter.

“I think what he showed was that he’s a tough cover in a lot of different places,” Staley said. “What I also think he showed was the durability that’s also important. I feel like being available for [QB] Justin [Herbert] and being able to grow with Justin — I think that chemistry really was on display this season because of that. That’s also an important factor in being a pro player.”

It was evident early and throughout the season that if Williams had a big game, then the offense was flowing. Williams had less than 50 receiving yards in five of their seven losses.

It wasn’t long ago that Williams was looked at as a bust. He was drafted seventh overall in the 2017 draft but sustained a back injury that limited him throughout the season. In 2018, he had 664 receiving yards but scored 11 touchdowns.

He took a big step in 2019 when he posted his first career 1,000-yard season but only ended up in the end zone twice. Next season, his numbers took a dip to 756 yards, and scored five touchdowns.

“I feel like I’ve gotten better and better every year,” Williams explained. “Every year, I try to find something to get better at in my game to make my game better. I feel like year-in and year-out, I’ve been doing that. This offseason, I’ll try to get better so that we won’t be in this position, just try to help my team win ball games; that’s the main thing. Get better, better my game, and come out and be a better player next year.”

During the first four seasons, he missed some games due to injuries, partly having to do with the style in which he played. Williams was like a WWE superstar having to do all these dangerous and acrobatics to get the ball down the field.

What a coincidence that Lombardi and Staley changed his style, and he almost made it the entire season without being hobbled. He missed one game due to COVID.

One of the things that Williams showed this season is that he has the trust of quarterback Justin Herbert. It developed slowly because in 2020, Herbert looked more toward Keenan Allen in crucial situations.

This season, it seems as if the young quarterback became more comfortable in the pocket and chose when to throw to which receiver in crucial moments.

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“Mike’s a special player,” Herbert explained. “I knew, as soon as I got here, how gifted he was and what he’s able to do with the 50/50 balls. I don’t think he gets enough credit for the routes that he runs and the separation.”

This season, the Herbert/Williams connection was the clutchest duo in the NFL. The former Clemson receiver scored six game-tying/go-ahead touchdowns this season, which is the most since receiver Sterling Sharpe in 1989.

“Mike has been phenomenal all season,” Allen said. “I’ve been saying that he’s our big-play guy, our big-money guy. He makes the plays when it’s time to be made.”

Williams was the player that Herbert looked at in the fourth quarter. The receiver had 432 yards and seven touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“He did it all season, for the money,” Allen explained. “This was definitely for the money for him. He stayed healthy. He was able to play and made big plays all the way through. He did more than he’s ever done, so hats off to Mike.”

The only negative on Williams game this season is he needs to work on his hands-on slant routes. He had six drops this season, and some of them came on slant routes. He missed a couple in Kansas City, then against the Vikings, he had a major drop late in the game, and there were some mistakes on the Thursday night game against the Chiefs.

He took the next step in his growth in 2021.

Williams had a career-high in catches with 76, career-high in yards with 1,146, and nine touchdowns.

“I wanted to have a career year — that was the main thing for me, to have a career year,” Williams explained. “Obviously, as a team goal, I wanted to make the playoffs and have a chance to play in the Super Bowl, but we fell short of that. Individually, did pretty well.”

Offensive continuity is key for the Chargers third-year quarterback. He hasn’t had the same head coach, offensive coordinator, and key weapons in his collegiate or professional. This could be the first.

Plus, that final performance against the Raiders showed everything the front office, the staff, players, and fans need to know about Williams.

He hurt his shoulder at one point but came up with three grabs on the first fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He had a 14-yard catch on fourth down, including a 12-yard touchdown grab with no time left on the clock on the game-tying touchdown drive. He had a huge 47-yard catch and run on fourth down in overtime.

“I think the other night was kind of an expression of his season,” Staley said. “I think what he proved to the league and to you guys is that he’s a complete receiver.”

Williams is scheduled to hit free agency this offseason.

“I’m thankful that we drafted him, and I’m thankful that he’s here,” Chargers GM Tom Telesco said. “We’ll figure out the future moving forward, but he was a big part of this football team this year, and he has been in the past, as well.”

Telesco and the Chargers brass have a big decision to make on Williams. Telesco’s motto is to draft them, develop them, and pay them. The Chargers have the cap space to do it, but they could also go the franchise tag route.

Williams has taken the correct steps in his development and the relationship between Herbert, and he has grown tremendously.

“Yes, I would like to,” Williams explained. “I don’t like changes. I feel like I have built some lifelong friendships here with the guys in this organization, on and off of the field. I like the organization, I like the people that I come to work with every day. Hopefully, things work out on both ends.”