It’s not a great start.
After missing his team’s OTAs and minicamp this spring, Los Angeles Chargers rookie Mike Williams is in danger of becoming the latest first-round receiver to have his career sabotaged before it even started.
Williams may reportedly require surgery on a herniated disk in his back that would cause him to miss his first NFL season. While the Clemson product is feeling better after receiving a second epidural, back injuries are among the easiest to re-aggravate and he is still expected to start the year on the PUP list just to be safe.
“This may be a lot more serious than people thought,” said a source familiar with the injury to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
While no one is or should be suggesting Williams ignore the injury and tough it out for his rookie campaign, his career could take a huge hit before his first NFL snap if he starts it off on the sidelines.
In the previous two drafts, three receivers were taken in the first round with high expectations of becoming the next Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, or Dwayne Bowe (in a good way), but missed their rookie seasons with major injuries.
Kevin White was selected with the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Chicago Bears before developing a stress fracture in his shin that kept him on the sidelines for the entire 2015 season. He had a steel rod inserted into his left tibia during the 2015 preseason, but White’s situation turned worse in 2016. After catching 19 passes for 187 yards through the first four games of the season, the 25-year-old’s year ended again, this time due to a fractured left fibula – the same leg he had surgery on the summer prior.
Chicago went from viewing White as a potential replacement for All-Pro Brandon Marshall to just another guy who may or may not catch a ball thrown his way. The Bears signed four veteran receivers to their roster this offseason, showing their lack of faith that White will be who they drafted him to be.
Also, a part of the 2015 first-round draft class, Baltimore Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman has had a little more luck than White, but not much. The 23-year-old Central Florida product suffered a bad PCL sprain on his first day of training camp and was forced to start the year on the PUP list before finishing it on injured reserve. Perriman had a second scare in June 2016, partially tearing his ACL and undergoing surgery. Thankfully, he was able to recover in time for the beginning of the 2016 season.
However, Perriman struggled to make an impact in the Ravens’ passing attack, catching just 33 passes for 499 yards through 16 games. He only made more than three receptions once all season and that game did not come until Week 17. Perriman’s role this season has become complicated with Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace expected to be the team’s starting outside receivers, while Michael Campanaro has found proficiency from the slot.
The most recent first-round receiver to miss his rookie year is Washington Redskins‘ Josh Doctson, who was selected 22nd overall in 2016. The jury is still out on Doctson, who made just two catches in two games last year before surrendering to an Achilles injury initially suffered in OTAs. The injury started as something not to worry too much about, but escalated into a “very concerning” issue that killed his season.
Washington let its top two receivers walk in free agency, signalling some level of faith in Doctson, but had him working with the second-team offense in OTAs. The TCU product looks to be afforded another chance mainly because his team needs him to round out their receiver corps, which may not be the same case for Williams.
The Chargers have one of the deepest receiving units in the NFL with veterans Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, and Dontrelle Inman all having at least one year’s experience in their system. The team is used to dealing with injuries, though it probably wishes it weren’t after seeing Allen go down the last two years and being unable to have a first-round pick play all 16 games since Melvin Ingram in 2012.
If Williams needs to miss the 2017 season, his team certainly won’t abandon him, but if his injuries become a regular occurrence (like White’s), the Chargers are well set up to succeed without his services. Back injuries are known to be a troubling, player-changing issue. Williams needs to be careful with his recovery, but also keep in mind that his career could essentially be over before he makes his first catch if he isn’t back to full health before his sophomore campaign.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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