Los Angeles Chargers: Why Mike Williams regresses in 2020

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams finally had his breakout campaign in 2019, but factors suggest he’ll see a downturn this season.

For those patient Los Angeles Chargers fans, it was great to see wide receiver Mike Williams finally break out onto the national scene in 2019.

Entering his third season after Los Angeles selected him at No. 7 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Williams was understandably under a lot of pressure to deliver after an injury-riddled rookie campaign and only so-so effort in 2018.

And while the Chargers 2019 offense had its share of ups and downs, Williams being able to accompany fellow wide receiver Keenan Allen in the 1,000-yard receiving club was an excellent sign.

Except for the real possibility Williams could see a notable drop in production this year.

Much of the would-be regression is due to L.A.’s change at quarterback, bidding farewell to the longtime starter, Philip Rivers, in favor of the journeyman backup, Tyrod Taylor. Eventually, those reins will be passed along to the team’s top pick from this year’s draft, Justin Herbert.

Neither Taylor nor Herbert possess the gunslinger mentality Rivers displayed during his San Diego/Los Angeles tenure. Williams saw targets thrown his way increase from 66 in 2018 to a full 90 last season, suggesting Rivers was fully confident in the receiver’s ability to fight for those 50-50 balls.

And with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, it’s understandable why Rivers would feel more comfortable taking risks when Williams was on the receiving end.

But that figures to change entering 2020, which is why Williams could end up seeing a notable drop in production.

 

Why Mike Williams regresses with Chargers in 2020

Taylor’s last campaign as a full-time starter, 2017 with the Buffalo Bills, is probably the best mark to gauge what one might expect in L.A. this season, assuming Taylor starts of course.

The bulk of Taylor’s pass attempts that year came between the line of scrimmage and 20 yards out, 299 of his 420 passes in this short- and intermediate-area parts of the field. Only 62 passes were 20-plus-yard attempts, per Pro Football Focus. Last year, nearly a third of Williams’ 90 targets were 20-plus yards, per PFF, and he hauled in 12 of those for 471 yards.

As Bolt Beat’s Faustino Felix pointed out, Williams isn’t much of a separator and relies more on downfield physicality instead of finesse route running in the crowded areas within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Unlike Allen, who led all Chargers wide receivers with 403 yards after the catch in 2019, Williams’ 118 after-catch yards a season ago — an average YAC of 2.4 yards per reception — suggests the vast majority of his net total 1,001 receiving yards were merely through the air despite his league-leading 20.4 yards-per-reception average.

Simply put, Williams doesn’t create much more after getting the ball in his hands.

Herbert is a wild card, of course. And so is offensive coordinator Shane Steichen’s play-calling. But Taylor’s preference for both short- and intermediate-area passing could ultimately be a detriment with regards to Williams’ down-the-field abilities. Considering Williams isn’t much of a threat after he gets the ball in his hands, it’s likely we’ll see a notable drop in the breakout numbers he enjoyed a year ago.

Next: 3 questions facing Chargers offense in 2020

Of course, this doesn’t mean Williams won’t have a key role to play. L.A.’s receiving corps behind Allen and Williams is largely untested, and rookie wideouts Joe Reed and K.J. Hill have a long way to go before solidifying themselves as reliable options.

That said, expecting another highly productive year from Williams might be a bit of a reach this season.