Chargers’ Mike Williams primed for breakout season

Los Angeles Chargers

Second-year receiver Mike Williams is coming off a year that was majorly impacted by injuries. Now completely healthy, he could step into a bigger role.

Mike Williams, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, was hampered by injuries in his rookie season. Williams appeared in 10 games but was held to just 11 receptions (on 23 targets), 95 yards, and no touchdowns.

The injury that held Williams back last season was a herniated disc in his back that he suffered in rookie minicamp. The herniated disc also affected his legs, causing numbness and impacting his hamstring. He did not return to practice until September and did not see game action until Week 6.

Now, entering the preseason, Williams is healthy and could play a key role for the Chargers.

With Hunter Henry out for the season, Los Angeles will be looking for another big body to target in the red zone. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Williams has stood out at camp as the receiver that could fill that role.

Last season, Keenan Allen (24), Henry (12), and Antonio Gates (11) led the Chargers’ pass-catchers in red zone targets. Allen could certainly receive more of the red zone target share, but with Henry injured and Gates not (currently) on the roster, 29 percent of last season’s red zone targets are up for the taking.

Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, LA’s field-stretchers, received a combined total of three red zone targets last season — one less than Mike Williams. Virgil Green, the team’s current starting tight end, is more of a blocker than a receiver — never catching more than 22 balls and one touchdown per season.

All signs point towards Williams being the Chargers’ only option in the red zone outside of Allen.

In the first version of their preseason depth chart, Williams was listed with the second team of receivers. Assuming he performs in the preseason, however, Williams should receive plenty of opportunity during the season. With so little depth at tight end, it makes sense for the Chargers to play Green with three receivers.

That would allow Williams to see some time with two of Allen, Benjamin, and Tyrell Williams. Austin Ekeler, a second-year back that caught three touchdowns last season, could also see some time on the field next to Melvin Gordon — playing the role of that third receiver. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Mike Williams wouldn’t be on the field as well.

It can be hard to trust a player coming off an injury-hampered year, but it seems as if Williams is completely healthy. We will only see so much during the preseason, but perhaps his role will start to materialize heading into the regular season.

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Assuming he doesn’t pick up any new injuries, Williams could play a large role in a Chargers’ offense that has some major scoring upside.

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