The Combine Report – Week 6: Panthers TE Brandon Williams Made First NFL Catch, Next Hoop Sensation Turn Gridiron Legend?

By: Barry Barnes, Founder

Week 6 of the NFL has come and gone with statement wins by the Dallas Cowboys (over the Seahawks in Seattle) and Cleveland Browns (defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers). In the midst of the excitement of the Week 6, if you were paying attention, you may have seen a quick flash of greatness before your very eyes in Cincinnati.

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Brandon Williams/Google Images

In the Carolina Panthers / Cincinnati Bengal game, the talk was all about the obvious finale that ended with a tie at 37 all. On the opening drive of the game, Panthers quarterback connected with tight end Brandon Williams for a 16-yard completion with 11:28 remaining in the first quarter. The play sustained a drive that would eventually lead to a touchdown.

The 16-yard catch was Williams’ first NFL regular season grab after being in the league for two seasons – all with the Panthers.

Last season, Williams caught two passes during the preseason, most notably the 24-yard pick up against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Williams played in nine games for the Panthers in 2013 and did not catch a pass. And through five contests this season, it appeared he was not going to get a look in this year’s campaign – until Sunday.

Williams is the latest NFL Regional Combine participant to compile his stats this season. The 6-4, 250-pound tight end attended the RC workouts in 2013, after finishing his collegiate basketball career at Portland Bible College. With such an athletic background and a towering physique, could Williams be the next former basketball power to dominate the tight end position in the NFL? 

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Brandon Williams/Google Images

The Chicago native is pretty much a late-bloomer. After playing basketball and football at Joliet Junior College in Chicago, Williams earned a football scholarship at Oregon in 2010. Following his first season at Oregon when he recorded two catches for 48 yards, Williams was hit with physical issues, which caused him his senior year, and probably his football scholarship, as he suffered from a bulging disk, spinal stenosis (spaces within the shine) and bruised spine.

Williams’ unfortunate health forced him to return to basketball, which landed him at Portland Bible College.

After finishing his collegiate career, moving on from playing sports was something Williams wasn’t willing to accept.

Thankfully, the NFL have a platform such as the Regional Combine as it gave Williams hope because his desire to play in the NFL burned furiously.

Williams attended the workouts in Seattle, and after an impressive session, the former basketball player was invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine in the Dallas in 2013. The then-25 year old tight end was scouted by the Panthers, and when the 2013 NFL Draft concluded, Carolina signed him in hopes of another basketball gem turned football player would shine in the NFL, but for them.   

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Future first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez famously brought the notion of a basketball player turning in his shorts for a pair of cleats to light. San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates popularized the transition due to his post-up moves in the endzone. Now with the likes of Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos, the hunt for signing the next star, hardwood transitional player is on every team’s target range.

The Panthers believe they found one, and tight end Greg Olsen approves.

“I think Brandon has come as far as anybody,” said Olsen. “To consider where he was a little over a year ago as a guy that was at a regional combine, and he gets brought in to see what he’s all about, to make the active roster as a rookie and now here we are a year later to see the growth he’s made, it’s a testament to the hard work he’s put in with (tight ends coach) Pete (Hoener).

“I think he’s light years ahead of where he has been. He’s obviously very physically gifted. And as things start to slow down for him and piece it all together, I think he has a chance to have success.”

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Brandon Williams/Google Images

Williams had six catches during the preseason, including a 31-yard touchdown reception against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Thus far, Williams’ lucky number is 16 because that is the number he averages after each catch.  He is an active member of special teams and tallied a tackle this season. However, Williams wants to make his presence known as a pass catcher, and hopefully Week 6 was the start of something to behold.

Williams shared the NFL Regional Combine spotlight with cornerback Melvin White, who registered six tackles in the tied affair, and tackle David Foucault. Sunday, Foucault saw the field for the second time this season. 

The other round outs for Week 6 were the usual suspects.

The Bears controlled most of the clock in their throwdown against the Atlanta Falcons as they had possession for 36:15 minutes. Clearly, safety Kemal Ishmael and linebacker Joplo Bartu played a lot. Ishmael led the team in tackles with six and Bartu registered six tackles (3 solos) as well.

For the Buffalo Bills, defensive tackle Stefan Charles recorded a tackle against the New England Patriots, while kicker Gay Jordan had four kickoffs and two went for touchbacks.

In a tough divisional matchup Monday night, St. Louis Rams punter John Hekker witnessed tons of action as he had eight punts, two landed inside the 20. Hekker did all he could to set his defense up by giving the San Francisco 49ers a long field to work with, but they kept on driving. His longest punt went for 56 yards. Rams Kicker Greg Zuerlein finished with a 38-yard field goal with two extra points attempts.

The NFL Regional Combine was established for the many players who are currently in the league with incredible talent that experienced a rough patch in their personal and competitive life. Not to say that these RC participants were never going to make it to the NFL, but what can be said is the platform that was established by the league made the transition less difficult as many would have been overlooked for many reasons – like Williams who needed a chance. 

“Last year I was way behind, having been out of football for two years. So having a year of experience has really helped me develop,” said Williams. “Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m willing to do it. I just try to go in everyday with an open mind and listen to what they say and work on everything they want me to work on.”

Week 6 of the 2014 season may be special down the road because of Williams. Week 7 will be just as great for another player from the NFL Regional Combine as they will rise from the bottom.  

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