After falling to the Buccaneers in the fourth round of this year's draft due to character concerns, Mike Williams ascended to the top of the team's depth chart in training camp and filled one of Tampa Bay's biggest needs at wide receiver.
Williams, who has 36 catches for 559 yards and five touchdowns, quickly became a favorite target for QB Josh Freeman and is being mentioned as a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. It could be tough for him to keep producing at the same rate in the second half of the season, however, as Williams told PFW that defenses are starting to play him differently.
"I've been getting a couple of double-teams on third downs," he said in a Nov. 11 interview. "Coverages rotating to my side, I've been seeing that a lot. My coach kind of pointed out to me that they're starting to respect me now."
As much as Williams likes facing single coverage, he said it would be fine with him if defenses continue focusing on taking him away. He said he trusts that his fellow receivers will step up and make plays if he's blanketed by defenders.
"I kind of like it now because, they don't really know, but we still got Kellen Winslow on the team. Micheal Spurlock's coming along and (we have) Sammie Stroughter and Arrelious Benn. We've got guys who can get open and beat one-on-one coverages.
"I kind of like seeing them getting a catch and (I wonder) how the (defense will) react to me after they start getting catches."
There were doubts about Williams' maturity following multiple incidents during his career at Syracuse, but there are no indications that those problems have followed him into the NFL. He said he has had to grow up in a hurry, and credited Freeman for being the biggest reason for his early success.
"To be honest with you, Josh Freeman is really the key," he said. "He makes it so easy. You get all the pressure of coming in here and playing as a rookie and all that. Everybody telling me 'You can't play.' You get all that pressure on you.
"Josh always says 'Hey, just go out and play.' He makes the game fun."
As Williams and Freeman continue to develop, the connection between the two could prove to be difficult for opponents to interfere with for years to come.