As this Chargers season threatens to devolve into a bigger mess than the previous repugnant campaign, itâ€™s important for the team to start identifying talent that will be around for when better ingredients exist for playoff contention.
Not unlike a baseball team thatâ€™s not playing for short-term success — the Padres generally apply hereÂ — if this gets much worse for the preposterously injury-riddled Chargers,Â it will then be time to gauge future assets.
Tyrell Williams will be on the nextÂ Bolts team, barring something catastrophic (with this franchise, I suppose thatâ€™s in play), and heâ€™s looking like a high-end success story for anÂ organization that could use some good publicity.
Itâ€™s unfortunate a Chargers team thatâ€™s been in need of wide receiver depth for years now appears to have it without their anchor available.Â Having Keenan Allen healthy would have changed this season for San Diego, but the losses of he and Stevie Johnson opened the door for the team to find out what it has in Williams.
The equivalent of a late-round draft pick who keeps hitting in Double- and Triple-A to force an unlikely promotion, the former NFLÂ undrafted free agent continues to make plays for Philip Rivers.
Of all the receivers currently healthy for the Chargers, itâ€™s Williams — a UDFA out of Western Oregon — who looks like the long-term cog to team with Allen. Heâ€™s more dynamic than the Malcom Floyd of recent seasons, and the 6-foot-4, 205-pound target vexed both Raiders cornerbacks on Sunday. Williamsâ€™ career-high 117 yards on five receptions showed what kind of gem the Chargers have unearthed here.
In a division that has UDFAs operating as the No. 3 wide receiver for the other three teams — Bennie Fowler in Denver, Seth Roberts in Oakland, and Albert Wilson in Kansas City — the 24-year-old Williams looks like the highest-ceiling player in this surprising contingent.
He would not have been given the present opportunity had Johnson and Allen not gone down, and while injuries have defined the past two San Diego seasons, some good can come out of bad circumstances.
Sunday, Williams twice bested David Amerson — whom Pro Football Focus previously had given Champ Bailey-esque praise to — on deep balls. Williams blazed by PFFâ€™s No. 1 corner through four games on a play-action post, and with Reggie Nelson contributing nothing in the form of over-the-top help, the new starterÂ scored from 29 yards out. Rivers found him for 50 on a deep seam in the third quarter, with Williams making the Raidersâ€™ left cornerbackÂ look as bad as he has all season. Amerson came into the game as the lone reliable Raiders cover man;Â Sean Smith and D.J. Hayden hadÂ more liability moments than asset sequences this season.
Williamsâ€™ best display of receiving acumen, though,Â might have been a sleek stutter-go in the fourth quarter to dizzy Smith. While that hasnâ€™t been hard for receivers to do this season, Williamsâ€™ lax motion off the line had the veteran right-boundary corner convinced he was blocking. Once Smith committed, Rivers easily found Williams.
Unfortunately for the Bolts, this set up another late meltdown, but the field goal snafu doesnâ€™t detract from Williamsâ€™ statement game.
Itâ€™s not crazy to suggest Williams reaches 1,000 yards this season. Heâ€™s at 358 through five games, with at least 61 in four of the five, and is averaging 17.0 per catch. As the Chargers drift away from the Antonio Gates-funneled offense as he finally slows down, they need to begin identifying their next set of core pass-catchers.
Williams is under contract through the 2018 season thanks to a lack of sufficient service time during a 2015 slate where he caught just two passes despite Bolts pass-catchers often unavailable. The previously raw target has developed quickly and has a promising future.
He and Travis Benjamin, who has exceeded expectations thus far with 384 yards, look like next seasonâ€™s Nos. 2-3 targets opposite Allen. And considering the newly extended wideout is now missing the bulk of a second-straight season, itâ€™s not exactly certain Allen re-emerges as the electric version the Bolts were counting on this season.
The Chargers may be the most injury-prone franchise of the mid-2010s, but something positive has come out of these ruins.