I like arguing both sides of a point, so to follow up on yesterday's article on how BMW is our potential #1 guy, I'll follow up on why I think he isn't. Remember, these articles stem from the question whether or not calling him "too much of a WR/TE tweener to be a WR1" is fair. It's a debatable point, and I've already shown my hand on where I stand on this, but while writing yesterday's article I almost had myself convinced. I'm just that good a writer. Excuse me while I put my shoulder back in its joint, it just popped out as I was patting myself on the back.
In all seriousness, it's a quality of how good Mike Williams can be. When he's on, as in the Cardinals game, he's really on, making unbelievable plays to secure the football, running his routes well, using his size and strength to his full advantage. When you see a 6'5 wide receiver 30 yards down the field making a jumpball over a Cards cornerback who is right on him, or catch an over-the-shoulder pass while running into the endzone with two Saints defenders on him (great throw by Hasselbeck), it's hard not to think "this looks like a #1 guy." But is that the full story?
I started the last story noting that the prototypical number one wide receiver is not a necessity for every NFL team out there, and it doesn't have to be for us. That said, the reason "possession receiver" in particular is mentioned for Mike Williams is that a possession receiver does not have the full arsenal of a #1 receiver. Either he rarely gets yards after the reception or he never goes deep, instead he acts as a safety valve for the team's offensive attack, getting those few yards when they're most needed and giving the quarterback a steady out. Consistency over flash.Is that the ceiling of BMW's abilities? No, not really. But it goes a little way to explaining what his limits are. As of right now, BMW only does one thing really well, which is use his body to create situations where only he can catch the ball and the defender can't touch it, provided the quarterback gives him a proper pass. It's an impressive and very useful skill, one that can endear a receiver both to fans and to his quarterback, but it is only one skill.
BMW isn't necessarily bad at the rest of the required skillset for an elite receiver, but he doesn't stand out anywhere else. He isn't quick and even his topline speed is nothing more than "decent". He's got good hands, but he doesn't have great hands, and did suffer from the dropsies badly early on. The lack of speed will make many people dismiss him as a WR1 option and I think that's partially valid, as it does limit the contributions he can make as the leading wide receiver. The lack of elite hands may seem a bit nitpicky, but it is a factor in why he is not dependable enough to be a pure possession guy, particularly in some memorable drops when playing the Giants or Bears in the divisional game this last season.
But honestly, the real problem is a combination of flaws in his route running. He doesn't run crisp routes as far as I can tell from game footage. I'm not comparing him to Golden Tate in sloppiness, but it should be noted he's very unreliable here as his concentration seems to wane at times, particularly later in the season, which makes him less dependable as a receiver overall. This isn't as much of a problem if you can create separation by speed or shiftiness, but BMW can do neither, which means he'll very often have to catch the ball in traffic.
The route running problem is exacerbated by a lack of quickness. BMW does not come out of his breaks particularly fast, and he does not change direction particularly fast. And in this case, I'm understating the problem, he's slow as molasses here. If this were fixed, it'd make quite a difference to his level of play as a wide receiver, but I don't think I've heard much of players improving their quickness at his age. And again, this brings a tight end skillset to mind, more than a wide receiver (even a possession one).
Do I think Mike Williams will be our leading receiver this coming season? Yeah, probably. Does that make him a "true #1 receiver"? Well that's a nebulous concept anyway, but I'm going with no, unless he improves on his drop rate (peg it as concentration) and his quickness. It'd be different if he was a rookie, but BMW is a very unusual case in coming back to the NFL as he did, so I find it hard to estimate whether or not he can improve in these fields. For now, we see a wide receiver with significant limitations, who looked a ways away from elite. That in turn means our WR group is far from settled. As it stands right now, WR is a need for us. Not a huge need like defensive line, cornerback, quarterback or left guard, but a need nonetheless. I can certainly live with this group of WRs going into the season if we prioritize one of those other needs. And I'm happy joining the rest of you in being hopeful that BMW will continue getting better and closer to a reliable #1 receiver, but it's not guaranteed based on last year's performance.