The Los Angeles Chargers used their first draft choice after their move north on a playmaker who could attract plenty of attention in their new home.
The Chargers grabbed Clemson receiver Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick Thursday night, passing on a handful of elite defensive prospects to add a big-play target for Philip Rivers.
The 6-foot-3 Williams won the national title last season, leading the Tigers with 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. He worked out for the Chargers recently, but he wasn’t sure they were sold on him until he got a phone call from the front office right before the pick — and then had to call them back when the call dropped out.
“I’m looking forward to living in LA,” Williams said in a phone interview from his family home in South Carolina. “The weather is great. I have to get used to it, so I’m going to get used to it fast.”
With an eight-catch, 94-yard performance against Alabama in the national title game, Williams capped an impressive return to elite form and established himself as one of the best pass-catching prospects in the nation. He missed nearly all of the 2015 season when he broke a bone in his neck by running into the goalpost in the first series of Clemson’s season opener.
Although Rivers has consistently racked up impressive statistics in recent years, the Chargers have been looking for a dominant receiver since Vincent Jackson left for Tampa Bay in 2012. Keenan Allen has three 700-yard seasons, but he has played in just nine games in the past two years and is attempting to return from a season-ending torn knee ligament in San Diego’s 2016 opener.
“I love the pick,” said Anthony Lynn, the Chargers’ new head coach. “We put in a lot of work, and we liked him. He was No. 1 on our board. Glad we could get him.”
The Chargers’ top pass-catcher last season was 6-foot-4 Tyrell Williams, who made 69 receptions for 1,059 yards. He could team with the 6-foot-2 Allen and the big rookie to provide an imposing size matchup for any defense.
“Keenan on the other side, I’m on the opposite side, it’s something I look forward to,” Mike Williams said. “I think we can be two great receivers in the league. I look forward to getting with him and having fun.”
After finishing 5-11 last season and missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years, the Chargers are loaded with skill-position talent for their first season in Los Angeles. They will play in the 30,000-seat StubHub Center while trying to attract attention away from the Rams and a crowded sports marketplace.
Along with those top three receivers, Los Angeles will have running back Melvin Gordon and tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry around Rivers.
“We didn’t just go target a wide receiver,” Lynn said. “We thought Mike was the best available on our board. We did have some injuries at that position last year, but we expect all those guys to be healthy next year.”
Williams was the second receiver taken in the first seven picks of the draft.
The Chargers celebrated their pick and their move by throwing a party for thousands of season ticket holders at Downtown Disney, the entertainment district just outside Disneyland. Fans put down their free chicken wings and roared in approval when Williams’ name was announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.