Might an under-the-radar receiver who played his college ball on the other side of I-4 be an intriguing late-round target for the defending champions?
For years, the Buccaneers have boasted one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. They’ll look to do the same again in 2021 fresh off of winning Super Bowl LV, as they have a room that features seven-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans, 2019 Pro Bowl selection Chris Godwin, 2020 standout Scotty Miller and a promising prospect in Tyler Johnson. With or without re-signing Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay has a wealth of talent at the position.
But if the Bucs don’t re-sign Brown—or even if they do—more young depth certainly wouldn’t hurt. This year’s class of receivers in the NFL Draft appears to be another good one, so the team would have options if it wants to add another pass-catcher to Tom Brady’s arsenal. It seems unlikely that Jason Licht would spend an early pick on one, but taking a stab at a guy on day three surely isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
As our 2021 draft profile series nears its final days, we’ll shine a spotlight today on a sleeper who played his college ball just a couple of hours down I-4 at UCF: Marlon Williams.
MARLON WILLIAMS’ COLLEGIATE CAREER
Coming out of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Alabama, Williams was rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star by both 247 Sports and Rivals. He had an extensive list of offers that included the likes of LSU, USC, Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss and North Carolina State, but he ultimately chose to attend UCF. As a freshman in 2017, he appeared in all 13 games of the Knights’ undefeated season, largely in a reserve role. He caught 17 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 15.9 yards per catch. His sophomore season saw him post similar numbers, as he finished with 18 receptions for 234 yards and one score.
In 2019, Williams broke out. With a true freshman quarterback in Dillon Gabriel, UCF needed more than just No. 1 receiver Gabriel Davis (now with the Bills) to step up. Enter Williams, who totaled what was at the time a career high in receptions (51), receiving yards (717) and touchdown catches (6). In the Knights’ Gasparilla Bowl win over Marshall at Raymond James Stadium, the junior put the finishing touches on a strong season by catching seven passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
After showing signs of what was to come in the last game of 2019, Williams put together a Biletnikoff-caliber year in 2020. Playing eight games in the COVID-shortened season, he caught 71 passes for 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had five 100-yard receiving games, with three of those games seeing him go over 150 yards. By the time his career with the Knights was over, Williams had his name among the program’s all-time leaders in receptions (ninth-most all-time with 157), receiving yards (10th with 2,260) and touchdown receptions (ninth with 19).
PRO DAY DATA AND ANALYSIS
Williams’ Pro Day on April 1 wasn’t particularly a memorable one. He looked impressive during the receiving drills, as expected considering his raw skill set is phenomenal. But in terms of measurables, he probably didn’t help his draft hopes a whole lot. He isn’t the biggest receiver to begin with, measuring in at 5-foot-11, 209 pounds.
His size combined with fairly average numbers across the board led to him largely being overshadowed on Pro Day by teammate Jacob Harris, who was less productive in his collegiate career but possesses more of a prototypical NFL receiver body. Williams’ measurements and drill results were as follows, according to UCF’s official site:
- Wingspan: 73 1/2”
- Vertical: 33 1/2”
- Bench reps: 14
- Broad jump: 9’11”
- 40-yard dash: 4.59 seconds
- Shuttle: 4.57 seconds
None of those numbers are really going to jump off the page at you. If Pro Day and drills in spandex were all that scouts had to go off of, it’s more than likely that Williams would’ve found himself as an undrafted free agent looking for an opportunity somewhere. The measurables might say one thing, but what he actually does on the field—in the game—is what has to have talent evaluators excited. The tape is where he stands out. His outstanding hands, exceptional ball skills and impressive after-the-catch production are sure to draw the attention of front offices around the league.
Projecting as a big slot at the next level, Williams is going to be a guy that fights for catches in traffic and creates space for himself both before and after the catch. It’s been said that he is built more like a linebacker than a receiver, and that comes across in the physicality that he plays with. He’s always been tough to bring down, which led to him displaying some big-play ability. Seriously, some of the plays that he made during his time at UCF were insane—they were what highlight reels are made of.
Most Missed Tackles Forced among WRs in 2021 class:
1. Florida, Kadarius Toney – 27
2. North Texas, Jaelon Darden – 23
3. UCF, Marlon Williams – 22
4. Ole Miss, Elijah Moore – 20
— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) April 18, 2021
“Now go tackle Marlon Williams” pic.twitter.com/qZuaF1TsEZ
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) November 15, 2020
WHAT HE BRINGS IN 2021
In 2021, Williams likely brings what Tyler Johnson brought as a rookie in 2020: depth with the occasional flash of production. Obviously, given that the Bucs have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller and Johnson (and possibly Antonio Brown)—not to mention their spectacular tight ends—they wouldn’t need Williams to do all that much. But he would get a chance to learn from some great NFL receivers while further developing and expanding his route tree, which is where he falls short according to a lot of draft experts. Given how difficult he is to tackle, he could very well become a solid red-zone threat early on in his career as he develops and grows into the NFL game.
What also could help him if he were to be in the red and pewter this fall is that he’s unlike any of the other receivers the Bucs have on the roster. In terms of size, he would probably be closest to Godwin. The two play at the same weight, though Godwin has a couple of inches on him. Purely by the way he’s built overall and the type of skill set he has, Williams would potentially add a new dimension to the receiving corps as a rookie. By using him in the slot and splitting the likes of Evans, Godwin and Miller out wide, the Bucs would give opposing defenses even more problems than they already do.
Most 15+ yard receptions from the slot this season:
1. Amari Rodgers, Clemson – 25
2. Kadarius Toney, Florida – 23
3. Marlon Williams, UCF – 22
4. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss – 20 pic.twitter.com/B03HfxY1mo
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 5, 2021
Marlon Williams never dropped a deep 20+ yard pass in his career at UCF pic.twitter.com/m2JEmkh6C0
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 9, 2021
Part of what makes the Tampa Bay wide receiver room so special is that there’s so much talent and a great deal of youth. Evans is the elder statesman at 27, while the rest of the key contributors are 25 or younger. Godwin (25), Miller (23), Johnson (22) and even Justin Watson (25) make up a solid core behind the veteran Evans. The top four guys would appear to be set for the next several years (assuming Godwin gets a long-term deal and Miller is re-signed after his rookie deal expires).
So, if Williams were to enter the fray, the Bucs would have even more youth in the group and perhaps a bit of a logjam, at least on the surface. However, the former UCF Knight would have a shot to unseat Watson and a host of others as the team’s fifth receiver as early as this year. If not, it’s certainly likely that he does so by his second season in the pros. While Watson has been a valuable asset on special teams, he hasn’t often been involved in the offense and when he hits free agency in 2022, it’s possible he’ll look to go somewhere that he’ll get more snaps at receiver. If that’s the case, it opens a door for a guy like Williams to get more regular involvement in the offense.
Within the next three years, a receiving corps that includes Evans, Godwin and Miller at the top with Johnson and Williams splitting snaps as the No. 4 has to sound pretty good, especially considering the late-round value that Williams seems primed to be.
The caveat here is Brown. All of this would likely have to change if Brown is brought back for 2021 and possibly beyond. But given the team’s cap situation and the veteran’s off-field question marks, why not move on? In no world is it fair to say that Williams will provide what Brown does, but he’s cheaper, younger and with time to develop, he should have a high ceiling of his own.
Williams is sure to be a day three pick. Now, where on day three he is going to be selected seems to be the question. He should probably fall somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds, though one mock (Sporting News’ from earlier this week) had him going as high as the fourth round (pick No. 106). On this week’s episode of The Pegasus Podcast (shameless plug), we discussed how odd it is for there to be such a wide range of projections for Williams. To see him predicted for the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh round—or even to go undrafted—is pretty strange. His size may limit his ceiling in the eyes of some teams, but there’s good value in selecting him later on the draft’s final day.
ON THE CLOCK…
So, Bucs Nation, what do you think about former UCF standout Marlon Williams? Would you want to see the team take a chance on him in next week’s draft to add some more youth and another unique skill set to its talented group of receivers? Let us know what you think by voting in our poll and discussing your opinions in the comments down below.