As reports conflict, Chargers first-round pick Mike Williams’ injury situation unclear

First-round draft pick Mike Williams watches action during a Chargers practice in San Diego on May 23.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Mike Williams might need season-ending surgery on his lower back. Or, Mike Williams might be improving from nonsurgical treatment and will avoid surgery that would have cost him his rookie season.

Right now, anyone who says they know for sure probably doesn’t.

Williams, the Chargers’ first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, hasn’t been on the football field since the first day of rookie minicamp, sidelined with a herniated disk in his lower back. The Chargers were briefly optimistic that he’d be able to return at some point during the team’s offseason program, but those hopes were dashed when the team shut him down in the final weeks of organized team activities.


Wednesday, some reports said Williams could be headed for season-ending surgery on his back. Shortly thereafter, conflicting reports said that Williams was actually improving after a pair of epidurals and that surgery wasn’t currently an option.

The Chargers declined to comment on the reports, and Williams’ agent didn’t return messages from The Times.

Williams seems likely to be headed for the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp — a move that wouldn’t necessarily prohibit him from playing during his rookie season. He could come off the list at any time during training camp.

If he remained on the list through training camp, he’d be ineligible to play during the first six weeks of the season.

The team’s first practice at training camp will be held July 30 at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The contrasting reports do represent some concern with Williams’ injury. The team has never formally identified when the injury occurred, whether it happened during the run-up to the draft — in which the Chargers used the No. 7 pick on the wide receiver — or on the field during rookie minicamp.

Back injuries are notorious for lingering and, in Williams’ case, injury red flags already existed. One game into his third season at Clemson, Williams suffered a neck fracture in a collision with the goalpost during a touchdown catch.

“My first thought was ‘Oh man, this kid may not play again,’” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told The Times in an interview in April. “It was a scary moment for everybody, for sure.”

Williams was somewhat lucky, though. He did miss the entire season, but the fracture didn’t require surgery. He returned in 2016 and helped lead Clemson to a national championship, catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Chargers were very impressed with Williams during a private workout prior to the draft.

“I love the pick,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said that night. “You can’t have enough playmakers.”

And luckily, even without Williams, they have plenty more.

Receiver Keenan Allen returned from a knee injury that cost him nearly all of last season and participated throughout organized team activities. When Allen was sidelined, Tyrell Williams emerged with 1,000-plus yards receiving and Dontrelle Inman developed into a reliable target.

Running back Melvin Gordon had 997 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns last season, and tight end Antonio Gates — one of the best ever to play the position — is flanked by Hunter Henry, the best tight end in last year’s rookie class.

The plan, of course, was to add Williams to that group. But as he watched his teammates go through drills during the summer, it was clear that he would not enter training camp on a level footing.

“He’s getting behind,” Lynn said at the time. “But the most important thing right now is to get him healthy, and get him back on the football field. But I know he can help us win football games down the road.”

It’s just that no one seems too sure how far down the road the Chargers will have to travel until Williams is ready.

Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports