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The Drive: Tyrell Williams as a Seahawk

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrell Williams is the quintessential sleeper free agent. He is days into his 27th year and therefore can be construed as being in his prime. Should they chose not to re-sign him, the Chargers will have reasons for not re-signing that do not indicate lack of performance by Williams. Keenan Allen was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2018, and is under contract through 2020. Mike Williams was the seventh overall pick in 2017, performed roughly equally to Tyrell, and is under contract through 2020.

It could said Mike surpassed or supplanted Tyrell down the stretch, but overall their respective performances are very very similar. Tyrell started 10 times and caught five touchdowns. Mike started five times and caught 10 touchdowns. But what matters is that Tyrell is not being rejected by his former team. He is likely to leave through free agency but that departure will be caused by cap constraints and a surplus of talented wide receivers.

What most makes Williams the quintessential free agent sleeper though is the relative ease with which we can project his performance in a bigger role. When Allen missed most of 2016 because of an ACL tear Williams became the Chargers’ number one receiver, setting careers highs in receptions, yards, touchdowns and DYAR. He has the necessary tools. Results courtesy Draft Scout:

Dates: 03/13/15@Oregon State

Height: 6034

Weight: 204

40 Yrd Dash: 4.43

20 Yrd Dash: 2.59

10 Yrd Dash: 1.51 225 Lb. Bench Reps:

Vertical Jump: 39 1/2

Broad Jump: 10’07”

20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.17

3-Cone Drill: 6.74

He ran the final twenty yards of the 40-yard dash in 1.84 seconds, which translates to 32.6 feet per second or 22.23 MPH.

And check out a couple cherry picked plays—which are pretty hype.

1st & 10 at LAC 11

(7:46 - 2nd) P.Rivers pass deep middle to Ty.Williams to CLV 45 for 44 yards (E.Gaines).

Tyrell is circled. The Browns anticipate he will go deep, and with good cause. Williams has never averaged fewer than 15 yards a reception over a full season. E.J. Gaines, who stands just inside the 20, is playing off coverage. That caution will facilitate the long reception.

Rivers flashes but does not sell play action. Which is to say, he holds the ball out for a handoff but draws it quickly back in—well before the back could have taken the ball. The spacing created by the play fake is less important than his timing and read, it would seem, and Cleveland is only a little affected by the motion. A little but enough, we shall see.

The Browns’ players who straddle the 15 yard line, middle linebacker Joe Schobert (53) and corner Denzel Ward (21) are seemingly “drawn in.” Tyrell Williams must now run a route which takes advantage of that underneath space, takes advantage of the space given over top, which corresponds to the spacing designed into the play, and which intersects with where Philip Rivers will throw. Above you can see him angling in.

This is the pattern he ends up running.

It surprisingly simple, with one cut upfield and directly over the right hash mark five yards into the route, and a second post-like cut from the right hash mark to the left hash mark starting at the 30 and continuing past the 40.

The Browns bracketing Williams are Gaines and Schobert. Though Schobert is only drawn in a little bit by the play fake it proves enough. And despite Schobert running at a full, head-down sprint, Williams easily outpaces him and is able to slow the slightest bit, converting the reception for 44 yards. It’s a good route aided by iffy underneath coverage, and more of a testament to Tyrell’s deep speed than guile. This moment right here, in which he puts the slightest stank on his cut, bubbling the slightest bit right before cutting left, is about as close as we get to Williams setting up the defensive back.

It is in fact so subtle that I don’t know if I captured it in the screen grab. Yet it did keep Gaines in outside contain and cleared out the interior. But the separation is caused by Williams’ overall threat as a deep receiver, the play fake, and Rivers’ timing and accuracy. Rivers does a very good job of throwing to a point which allows Williams to split the defenders and Williams does a very good job of tracking the ball in flight and running under the pass. The window is still very small.

Williams runs the exact same pattern on the next play (Which, if you ever wondered how Tony Romo does it ...).

1st & 10 at CLE 45

(6:34 - 2nd) Tyrell Williams Pass From Philip Rivers for 45 Yrds M.Badgley extra point is GOOD, Center-M.Windt, Holder-D.Jones.

Same crummy play fake.

Same approximate location of his cut upfield.

Same staredown threatening cutting outside and same skinny post cut inside.

The complementary route is even the same: a 15-yard out. Allen ran it in the prior play. No. 80 Sean Culkin runs it in this one. He’s by the lower <30. Allen has a bit more shall we say “gravity.”

This is the moment the ball is leaving Rivers’ hands.

Damarious Randall—just over the <20—has peeled off from defending Culkin and will form the rapacious third in triple coverage. Randall slightly misjudges the path of the ball. Tyrell does not.

ESPN recently updated their player pages to include less information, meaning my source for deep splits is now gone, but as I remember it Rivers is a willing but so-so deep passer. This pass is a bit underthrown. Williams has to catch while ripping the pass free and all with one hand.

LA blew out Cleveland in Week 6 38-14. The Browns finished seventh in pass defense, so this is no mean feat. Williams not only led his team in receiving yardage but also snaps among wide receivers, out-snapping Allen and Mike Williams 49 to 39 and 38 respectively. He finished second in receiving DYAR for Week 6.

He has very good deep speed, and if he signed would be the second fastest player on the Seahawks.

Bobby Wagner in Week 13: 20.09

Rashaad Penny in Week 13: 20.19

Tyler Lockett in Week 11: 20.39

Tyrell Williams in Week 7: 20.70

Chris Carson!! in Week 17: 20.93!!!

Much to like yet Williams does not appear in NFL.com’s Top 25 NFL Free Agents, even as a “notable omission.” CBS rates him behind Adam Humphries. The Sporting News rates him behind Humphries and Devin Funchess. He didn’t find a place at PFF, though I guess Seattle will swap Frank Clark for ... Dee Ford?

If any of the above remotely reflected the likely evaluation of the NFL’s collective front offices, I could really sell this mug, and write here about the sweetheart deal Seattle could sign Williams to. But that’s a convenient straw man—a whole set of them! For all I know, he is not listed because the authors do not believe his value will meet his cost. They’re list articles. They are intended as trawl lines to hook popular search terms. Titles like “Top 25” are intentionally nebulous. Top by what criteria? I would be misinterpreting the authors in order to appear better in the know. I would be conflating placement in a list designed to generate readership with the factors that will actually determine Williams’ next contract: how teams with cap space value him and how much he values getting the biggest possible contract.

This quote reported by Eric D. Williams tells us a bit how Tyrell Williams views himself, particularly as a free agent:

I definitely feel like I’m a No. 1 receiver,” Williams said while cleaning out his locker at the end of the season two weeks ago. “So I want to make sure that I clean up all of the little things in route running and blocking, to make sure I solidify myself as a No. 1.

Williams has earned his second pay day, in the vernacular. He is not thinking how much more successful his career could be as the third option in a highly talented passing offense. He does not want to be a situational player hidden from his deficits. He wants to be the man. Which is to say I think he wants to be his team’s highest paid receiver. It is plausible Williams will sign something similar to what Paul Richardson signed last offseason. And that’s an awful lot. Even factoring in Richardson’s first year after signing that big free agent contract into the totals, Williams leads him by a thousand receiving yards, seven touchdowns, 30 first downs and 222 DYAR in one fewer season.

That too is why Williams is a quintessential sleeper. Not yet to free agency, when football fans like myself are seeking capsule previews of projected free agents, a guy like Williams seems almost too good to be true. He’s been a number one receiver, he has a thousand yard season, he was good just last year, and his tools indicate he has untapped potential. Which is why like most sleepers he is not a sleeper at all, only a player whose performance diverges from his fame.

Seattle is thin at wide receiver. Doug Baldwin was hurt all season. David Moore played just 12 snaps in the Wild Card round. Jaron Brown was targeted 19 times all season despite playing 350 snaps on offense. Amara Darboh I surmise has become a verboten punchline of sorts at Field Gulls. Seattle also doesn’t have a ton of draft capital.

Signing Williams makes sense. He would almost certainly be a sizable improvement over Brown or Moore. Though his true athletic prime may be behind him, Williams would play the majority of his contract while still in his 20s. The prime of his performance could be ahead of him. He could learn. I will not say I think he will but he could. Guys do. But signing Williams may only make sense if he is much cheaper than he’s likely to be. It is difficult exceedingly to derive surplus value from a free agent. Who wants to be a sourpuss about this little shred of football we get in late February into early March but it’s true: free agents boomerang. This is the worst time of year to acquire talent.

Maybe Seattle perceives itself to be in a new window of contention and can afford to pay market rate for Williams. It may be enough for Seattle to sign a forty million dollar receiver who plays like a forty million dollar receiver. It may be enough to build the team of 2019-2022 and let the rest be damned. If so, sign this dude. He’s legit. Not complete. Limited. But legit at what he does and what he does the Seahawks could put to excellent use.