Williams is no LeBron, but he is a good TE

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Brandon Williams isn't ready to take on NBA superstar LeBron James, but the tight end does claim to be the best basketball player among the Carolina Panthers.

And since defensive end Greg Hardy said last year he could take James in a game of one-on-one, logic suggests Williams could as well.


"I don't know about that," Williams said on Sunday with a laugh.

Hey, it made for a good rainy day conversation in training camp. That Williams' last team before Carolina signed him as a free agent in 2013 was the Portland Bible College basketball team gives it more legitimacy.

But other than a game of "Around the World" in the Wofford College gym, Williams' focus is on playing tight end. The progress the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has made since last season, when he played in nine games but caught no passes, is remarkable.

“He’s probably come as far as anybody on this team,” said starting tight end Greg Olsen, who led the team in catches last season. “I’m really happy for him because he’s a great kid. He wants to learn. He works his ass off. Physically, he has a lot of gifts that are hard to coach.”

Williams showed a glimpse of his potential in Friday night's 20-18 loss to Buffalo. He caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown with 1:37 remaining.

He played 56 snaps, which may be more than he had all of last season.

"Just being out there on the field is a blessing for me, because I was out of football for two years," Williams said. "Then scoring a touchdown, regardless of whether it is preseason or not, it was surreal for me."

Williams' football career seemed over after he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis before his career at Oregon got off the ground in 2011. It wasn't until he underwent more testing while playing basketball that he was given medical clearance to participate in last year's NFL Regional Combine in Seattle, where he turned heads running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds.

That's where the Panthers discovered him. Like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and other basketball players who have transitioned into great NFL tight ends, Williams showed a natural instinct for the position.

After spending much of the offseason soaking up all the knowledge he could from Olsen, Williams has emerged as a potential weapon for quarterback Cam Newton.

That coincides with Carolina's move to more two-tight-end formations, which gives offensive coordinator Mike Shula greater flexibility because it makes the offense more unpredictable.

The signing of free agents Ed Dickson and Mike McNeil makes Williams' chances of making the 53-man roster more difficult, but he should be a lock the way he's practicing and performing.

"I say the sky's the limit," Williams said. "I try not to give myself a ceiling."

Williams is embracing everything that is happening like he embraced the nickname "Swoll Bones" that Newton gave him last year because he's so muscular.

Williams also embraces his status as the team's best basketball player, declaring he hasn't found anybody who can take him.

"Right now, I'm the champion of 'Around the World,'" Williams said. "I plan on keeping that."

And the Panthers plan on keeping Williams around.