Chargers throw NFL draft a curve, take Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams with the seventh pick

Chargers first-round pick wide receiver Mike Williams runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine on March 4.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The crowd inside the ESPN Zone in Anaheim on Thursday night had cameras and bright lights pointed at it while the big screens flashed to a group of rowdy football fans cheering.

Assuming that ESPN was showing them about to react to history, the fans in Anaheim erupted in cheers. It wasn’t them.

The bar being shown on the screens was all the way across the country.

Soon, the Chargers handed them another surprise, taking Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams with the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft.


In Vance, S.C., where Williams was watching the draft with family and friends, the initial phone call with the Chargers dropped, and he said he had to silence his party so he could call back and take care of official business.

A lot like the television cameras in Anaheim, the Chargers front office threw the NFL for a bit of a head fake.

After some mock-draft shredding in the first six picks, the Chargers came to the clock with Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore on the board.

“The last couple weeks, we’ve had a lot of discussion,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “For whatever reason, it seemed like for this year, there were a lot of different ways we could go, a lot of different scenarios that could happen — who could be there when we pick, who could trade up in front of us, options of us trading back. We went through a lot of discussions, and we thought Mike was the best pick for us.”

Signs had pointed to the Chargers going for defensive help with their first pick, especially after Telesco said he thought the overall talent was better on that side of the ball. Most mock drafts had them coupled with Hooker since early in the process.

But the Chargers, much like the rest of the league, decided to address their offense. Seven of the first 10 picks in the draft were offensive players and, in Williams, the Chargers got their favorite.


“I love the pick,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We put in a lot of work, we like him, he was No. 1 on our board.”

With the pick, the team gets quarterback Philip Rivers a big target on the outside. At 6 feet 4 and 218 pounds, Williams starred on Clemson’s national championship team last season, catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. In the Tigers’ win over Alabama in the title game, Williams caught eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

“You can’t have enough playmakers, and he made plays all throughout college,” Lynn said. “I love the way he competes, I love all his intangibles. … You just can’t have enough good players. We’ll definitely find a role for him.”

Williams had a private workout with a Chargers scout last week.

“I caught all the balls, ran a few shuttles because I didn’t do them in my pro day,” Williams said. “My times were great, so I was confident they were going to pick me.”

Williams is the sixth receiver taken by the Chargers in the first round and the first since 2007, when they made Craig Davis the 30th pick.

Chargers fans react during the NFL draft.


The Chargers’ receiving corps was hit hard with setbacks last season, Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin both suffering knee injuries.

“I’m definitely excited for him,” Allen said of Williams. “I’m glad we chose him. Hopefully we can get better. It’s just another threat that we’ll have, and it’s definitely gonna take some pressure off of me.”

Williams will be introduced in a news conference at the StubHub Center on Friday. The Chargers also own the sixth pick in the second round, No. 38 overall, and the seventh pick in the third, No. 71, in Friday’s portion of the draft.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Telesco said. “If we can’t move out or we don’t move up, I think we’re in a good spot.”

First round:

Chargers’ draft profile

MIKE WILLIAMS, wide receiver: 6 feet 4, 218 pounds, Clemson, Round 1, Pick 7.

Notable: National champion, All-American receiver who recovered from a broken neck to dominate as a redshirt junior.


Why Chargers drafted him: Injuries decimated the team’s top receivers the last two seasons, and with an established quarterback in Philip Rivers the Chargers wanted another weapon that could line up on the outside and in the slot.

Last season: Williams was the top receiver in Clemson’s run to the national title last season, catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught nine passes for 174 yards in the opener, his first game after suffering a broken neck in 2015, and caught a combined 14 passes for 190 yards in Clemson’s two playoff games.