Mike Williams and Braylon Edwards are widely considered the top two wide receivers in this April's draft, and each presented themselves to the media extremely well Friday at the NFL Combine.
Edwards, who measured 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, has very little baggage coming out of Michigan. That was also the case with Williams last year as he attempted to enter the draft early, but his entrance was eventually denied because he wasn't out of high school long enough.
Now, after a year layoff, Williams has to prove he can still perform on the football field — or at least on a practice field — in order to merit a top-10 draft ranking. That workout won't come this weekend, as he elected to skip his workout at the combine and save it for a private workout at the University of South Florida on March 10.
Why not work out in Indianapolis?
"When the coaches asked me this, the GMs asked me this, I've been through a lot in this past year with the NFL and the NCAA. The Combine, it's a stage, but I don't think it's my personal stage. I think I owe it to myself to give me a day where it's my day and it's all about me, and I can go out and be comfortable in my surroundings and my area and perform. That's why I'm going to do it. "
That's about as close as Williams came to being arrogant in an extended interview with the media. More often than not, he said all the right things.
Coaches and general managers asked about Williams skipping the workouts admitted that it makes evaluating him more difficult. "Most of the seniors in the draft we were able to watch in the last 10 months," Cleveland GM Phil Savage said.
"People should come here with the attitude that it's a job interview," Green Bay GM Ted Thompson said. "He doesn't get the exposure at a private workout that he will here."
But many coaches and scouts also conceded that they will get a long look at him at March 10 and have plenty of old film from his days at USC.
Vikings fans should take comfort in the fact that Williams knows Minnesota is a potential landing spot, replacing Randy Moss as the tall, big-bodied receiver.
"Actually, when I met with Coach (Mike) Tice (Thursday) night, he brought that up," Williams said. "I told him, I wouldn't be trying to fill Randy Moss' shoes. Those shoes are cut to his feet. That's his situation. I think I'd bring my own pair, I'd bring my own attitude, my own playing style, and my own demeanor about myself and just really be me.
"I think the comparisons are inevitable — you're going to get them regardless of what team you go to or what you do. But at the end of the day you still have to put in your work, and you've got to establish yourself on a team."
What might be standing between Williams landing with the Vikings with their seventh overall pick is the Tennessee Titans, who, like the Vikings, are targeting receiver and cornerback with the sixth overall pick.
The Titans also have a connection to Williams, who played for new Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow at USC.
"I ran into Coach Chow (Thursday) night, briefly, before the interviews," Williams said. "I could just tell he was really excited about his opportunity to be an offensive coordinator on the highest level of football. I think he'll do really well. He has a record for taking guys that aren't really highly touted and big-name guys and making them into big-name guys. So, I think he'll do some great things for Tennessee. And I wouldn't mind playing for him. It definitely would be an easy transition as far as the next level, as far as learning the offense. It's an offense that I know. It's an offense that I learned the last couple of years, in and out, and the terminology wouldn't really be different. So, it would be a good situation for me. I'm not leaning toward one team or another, but, like I said, that would be a good situation for me."
The Vikings counter with their own connection to Williams, another former great receiver.
"When I interview with these guys they're going to understand my maturity. I've had the chance to be around some NFL veterans, especially Cris Carter," he said. "I learned a lot of things from him, as far as my route-running and just my approach to the game. With this year off, the biggest thing to my advantage was, I spent the last few months making the transition to the next level a lot easier, compared to just worrying about how fast I could run."
Speed isn't Williams' best asset when compared to other top-notch receivers that have gone high in the draft in recent years. He says he'll run a 40-yard dash for scouts in less than 4.45 seconds during his pro day.
But if he can't run away from every cornerback in pursuit, he knows how to gain position against smaller defenders.
"I credit that strength to basketball, having a basketball background and playing it for so long," he said. "You learn coordination and moving with the ball and getting in position as far as rebounding and things like that. I just kind of apply my basketball background to football. I think I move so well, and that's why I made guys miss for my size. I think that's one of my advantages."
But before Williams can have the Titans or Vikings ready to announce his name on April 23, he will have to prove he still possesses the athletic talent necessary. He doesn't believe his layoff will affect his draft standing.
It was his one-year hiatus from the game that still dogs him. He tried to follow Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett's lead and declare himself eligible for the 2004 draft after only two seasons at USC. He caught 176 passes and a school-record 30 touchdowns, but he will forever be linked to Clarett, who said he feels bad that Williams followed in his wake, when both were eventually denied entry into the draft.
Williams doesn't hold Carlett responsible in any way.
"I talked to Maurice a couple of times when things had first happened. I basically asked him, I said, ‘If you need somebody to work out with, if you need some things, I'll be in California. We can work out together, whatever.'" Williams said. "But he was doing his own thing, and I respected that. But really, I've not really tried hard to distance myself from his situation because we're kind of at different ends of the spectrum. But in the same token, I think we're always going to be linked together. We both understood that, but I definitely don't see him as the reason why I wasn't able to be in the draft last year. It's nothing personal against him, never has been. I just worry about maintaining my focus and my image, and I take care of my business."
Williams said he turned to family and friends for support during his layoff, and the USC coaches continued to offer support — at least until Williams' request to rejoin the team was denied by the NCAA.
That's all behind him, and now he is left to think about what lies ahead, like his private workout in a couple weeks. And running away from the donut table quicker than he does defensive backs. He said he weighed 216 in November and December, got off the plane at Indianapolis at 225 pounds but was up a few more pounds by the time he weighed in Friday morning.
"The sandwiches and breakfast and stuff are so good that, you eat and you don't work out and you gain weight. So, I weighed in at 228, 229," he said. "I'll definitely weigh less than that at my pro day. I'll experiment with this weight when I get back. But most likely when I enter the season I'll be at 224, 225."
Just where his big frame lands and how he performs during his workout are about the only issues left to resolve in his meandering journey to the NFL.
In-Depth: Draft Prospect Mike Williams
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