As if the dueling Steve Smiths of the Giants and the Panthers weren't confusing enough, now the NFL has another set of wide receivers who share a name. Mike Williams (Buccaneers), meet Mike Williams (Seahawks). But while the Smiths were likely gone by the middle of every draft, chances are the Williamses went unpicked. Still, both had strong showings in camp to emerge as their teams' No. 1 downfield options. While neither has played much in the last few years, the roles they play and the skills they possess should yield each Williams a minimum of 50 catches, 700 yards and five TDs. For production like that, they should be on every fantasy player's watch list for trades and waiver acquisitions.
• Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers
Williams was the 101st pick in the 2010 draft (fourth round), the 14th receiver taken and the second taken by Tampa Bay (after Arrelious Benn). Outstanding in training camp, the 6'2", 221-pound rookie impressed with sharp routes, terrific hands and surprising quickness. As a junior last year at Syracuse, Williams was averaging 106.6 receiving yards (compared with 107.7 for Oklahoma State's more highly regarded Dez Bryant) when he abruptly parted ways with the program after seven games following violations of team rules. That ended a tumultuous college career, during which he cheated on an exam and was suspended from school for the 2008 season. Normally players with checkered pasts don't make reliable fantasy pickups, but Williams's transgressions haven't been the sort that draw the scrutiny of the NFL's conduct police.
In Tampa, Williams instantly becomes quarterback Josh Freeman's top playmaker, so he should get a lot of looks. Williams will make an impact, and he could end up joining Donald Driver (seventh round), Brandon Marshall (fourth) and Derrick Mason (fourth) as the receiver steals of recent NFL draft history.
• Mike Williams, WR, Seahawks
The original Williams was a 6'5" star at USC who was forced to miss the entire '04 season when he tried to enter the NFL after his sophomore year; he was ruled too young for the draft, and he couldn't regain his college eligibility because he'd hired an agent. Williams sat for 16 months before the Lions picked him 10th in 2005. Out of shape and having lost a few steps from his Trojans heyday (99.2 yards per game and 30 TDs), he made 37 catches for 449 yards and two TDs in two Motown seasons before washing out of the league in '07. A return seemed unlikely.
Enter his former USC mentor, Pete Carroll. Seattle's new coach invited Williams to camp, and, slimmed down from 270 pounds to 235, he has rapidly become the team's most exciting fantasy option. Paired with smallish possession receiver Deion Branch, Williams is positioned to be the go-to guy for big plays and red-zone payoffs. The Seahawks have an untested running back committee, so offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who helped Marshall become a star in Denver, will look to throw. This time, this Mike Williams will be ready.
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Get ready for the greatest fantasy season ever. Why? New rules that protect defenseless players.
Defenders can no longer launch themselves into guys who are attempting to catch a pass, are in the grasp or are on the ground at the end of the play (or if they just threw a pass or are attempting to kick). That's going to help players who like to break tackles and fight for extra yards—running backs like me, Adrian Peterson(below), DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner. Receivers will be able to go after more passes without fear of getting drilled. And players all over the league should suffer fewer injuries and not get as dinged up, leaving them fresher through the season.
Offense drives the game, and it's going to be explosive this year.
STEVE MITCHELL/US PRESSWIRE (WILLIAMS)
BUC SHOT The rookie Williams (19) will start in Tampa, while his name twin is resurgent in Seattle.
JEFFREY GELLER/ICON SMI (JONES-DREW)
JOHN BIEVER (PETERSON)