The story of Mike Williams' career appears to be in the process of being rewritten. As a freshman for the University of Southern California, Williams caught 81 balls for the Trojans, who finished fifth in the nation. He improved on that production by hauling in 95 receptions the following season as USC finished second (though they were ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press). Following that season, out of the blue, Williams declared for the NFL draft when a judge ruled that the NFL improperly disallowed collegiate underclassmen from entering the draft via a suit that was originally brought by Maurice Clarett. Williams hired an agent and when the NFL won the appeal on Clarett's case, Williams was no longer eligible to play in college nor could he enter the draft.
A year later, the Detroit Lions drafted Williams 10th overall, despite spending their two previous first-round picks on wide receivers Charles Rogers and Roy Williams. The rest, as they say, is history. Mike Williams became an almost instant bust. In three years in the NFL, Williams caught only 44 passes and allowed his weight to balloon to a reported 290 pounds. The combination of speed and size that made him a mismatch had been flushed away. All that was left was size, and size without speed isn't a recipe for success for NFL wide receivers.
Fast-forward to this offseason, when his former collegiate coach, Pete Carroll, accepted the position to be the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks. Carroll, having no allegiance to anyone on the Seahawks roster, permitted 17 non-roster players to participate in minicamp and compete for a job. Williams appeared at that minicamp in shape and left it with a contract, and found himself back in the NFL competing for playing time.
Fast-forward again to Week 4 when the New England Patriots had tired of Randy Moss and shipped Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, thus leaving the Patriots with a need for a veteran receiver. They called Seattle and asked for Deion Branch, whom the Seahawks were more than willing to move for the price that was offered. The end product of these moves is that Williams emerged with a greater role in the Seahawks offense.
Now, being given a greater role and executing within those opportunities are two different things, but Williams appears up to the task. In the two games since the Seahawks had their bye, he has turned 31 targets into 21 catches for 210 yards and a score. In short, Williams appears to finally be living up to the high expectations that were held for him so long ago. In fantasy terms, Williams has gone from bust to sleeper to stud in the span of six games. Based on the opportunities he's seeing, it's not unrealistic to project Williams as a better fantasy option than the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith for the remainder of this season.
The following players are averaging seven targets per game or more over the past four weeks:
Note: For those of you not familiar with the best way to interpret the standard deviation data, all you have to know is that players with large standard deviations (e.g., Danny Amendola) likely have at least one game that is significantly altering their average, whereas those with small standard deviations (e.g., Larry Fitzgerald) have received basically a similar number of targets in each game. Finally, standard deviation can only be determined for data sets of two or greater, so if a player has played in only one game, his standard deviation is listed as not applicable.
A look inside some of this week's receiving performances:
Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints (15 targets; 10 receptions for 112 yards): The good news is that he finally had the type of day that his owners expected when they drafted him. The bad news is that came because his Saints got dominated by the Cleveland Browns and were forced to throw even more than normal. Consider him a sell-high candidate.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (14 targets; 5 receptions for 42 yards): Kevin Kolb did everything he could to find Maclin, but connected on less than 36 percent of the balls thrown that way. Nonetheless, Maclin has established himself as the No. 1 option in the Philadelphia Eagles' passing attack, at least with DeSean Jackson out of the lineup.
Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants (14 targets; 9 receptions for 108 yards): At this rate, the preseason discussion next year could very well be Andre Johnson versus Hakeem Nicks, and I'd be tempted to take Nicks' side at this point in the season.
Roscoe Parrish, Buffalo Bills (12 targets; 8 receptions for 49 yards): Steve Johnson may have finished with the better numbers, but Parrish is still being given ample opportunities to make a difference on the field.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (10 targets, 3 receptions for 30 yards): Derek Anderson or Max Hall, it doesn't make a difference. Fitzgerald is a bust this year because of the play of his quarterbacks. If I owned him, I'd be offering him straight up for a Maclin-ish player.
David Gettis, Carolina Panthers (9 targets; 8 receptions for 125 yards): If you need a flier to fill a glaring hole at wide receiver, Gettis is worth a lottery ticket. He possesses 4.47 speed and was third among all wide receivers with a 10-foot-4 broad jump at this year's scouting combine. What the broad jump has to do with catching a football, I'm not so sure, but it does speak to his overall athletic talents compared to his rookie counterparts.
Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers (9 targets; 9 receptions for 70 yards): Sproles' big day was courtesy of the ineptness of the rest of the Chargers' offensive attack that permitted the New England Patriots to take a big lead. Rookie Ryan Mathews isn't nearly as proficient in pass blocking as Sproles, so Sproles received a greater proportion of the work than he likely would have in the original game plan.
Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8 targets; 8 receptions for 34 yards): Remember when Cadillac was considered to be a below-average receiver? He still might be, but since LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin have three career receptions between them, Williams is their best receiver from the tailback slot.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (7 targets; 4 receptions for 54 yards): I'm not a Cowboys fan or hater, and going into the season I thought Bryant would be a bust. I was completely wrong. Bryant is positioning himself to be discussed among the top 15 wide receiver options next season.
Big Plays and Up Close
The following NFL players had at least three rushes that went for 10 or more yards this past week: Darren McFadden (5), Ryan Torain (5), Ahmad Bradshaw (4), Frank Gore (4), Chris Johnson (4), Adrian Peterson (4), LeGarrette Blount (3), Jamaal Charles (3), Justin Forsett (3), Percy Harvin (3), Steven Jackson (3) and Michael Turner (3).
Harvin's inclusion on this list is historic. Since 1991, Joshua Cribbs, Joey Galloway and Darnay Scott are the only wide receivers who were able to equal the accomplishment of having three big-play rushes in one game.
Bradshaw now leads the league with 25 big-play rushes. Incredibly, over 18 percent of Bradshaw's carries are for 10 or more yards. If Bradshaw ever got goal-line carries, he'd be a better fantasy option than Tiki Barber was during Barber's prime. Yes, I know just how good that is.
Thomas Jones' number was called on to rush the ball five times inside the Jacksonville Jaguars' 10-yard line this weekend. He converted one of those carries into six points. Jamaal Charles also scored once, on the lone carry he was given inside the 10.
Not only did McFadden tie for the league lead with five big-play rushes this weekend, he also converted two of his three carries from inside the Denver Broncos' 10-yard line into touchdowns. If McFadden can remain healthy, he may finally be on the verge of living up to the hype that surrounded him as he entered the NFL.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.go.com/KenD17.