NFL fans have yet to see Michael Thomas play in 2021. Unless you're a fan of the Chargers that is, in which case you've been witnessing Mike Williams evolve into a threat reminiscent of the Saints' All-Pro receiver.
The comparisons, which at one point might've felt like a bit of a reach, are starting to feel justified through the first three weeks of the season, with Williams stepping up his play in first-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme.
In the eyes of Lombardi, who served as the Saints QB coach from 2016-20, Williams and Thomas are players cut from the same cloth, with the type of size and catch radius that make them quite difficult to cover. On Friday, Lombardi was asked about how his current Mike compares to the one he worked with for five seasons.
"Mike Williams is a little bigger. They're both really competitive," he said, per the team's official transcript. "They both have good hands. There are a lot of similarities, really. Michael Thomas is probably a little more animated, a little more emotional. Both are really good players. You could say that there are a lot of similarities to them, as far as how you would use them as an offensive coach."
Manning the "X" receiver role Thomas mastered in New Orleans, Williams looks like a different player than the one used primarily as a downfield threat in his first four seasons. The 6-foot-4 wideout is still getting those types of looks but Lombardi has made more of a point to get him targets in the slot and intermediate passing game, which has given him more chances to use his frame to generate yards after the catch.
If that sounds familiar, then that's because it should, considering the scheme and profiles of both players. Realizing Williams was the right fit for such an important job within this offense was an epiphany Lombardi said he realized "pretty much right away."
"You just saw the similarities," he said. "I knew that there were things that he would really be good at that we could put them in position to do it. So far, it has paid off."
Any one with eyes would agree with that assessment.
Entering Sunday, Williams is tied for the second-most receiving TDs (4) and sixth-most receptions (22) in the NFL, and ranks sixth in yards per game (98.3), seventh in receiving yards (295) and seventh amongst receivers in YAC (109). He stands to add to those eye-opening numbers on Monday Night Football against the Raiders.
With it still being so early in the season, it's fair to wonder if Bolts standout will be able to maintain his current pace. It's also worth reminding those that are ready to dub Williams as the new "Can't Guard Mike" that Thomas, the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year, has yet to showcase his talent this season due to injury.
Objective points aside, Williams is clearly coming alive in Year 5, just as his coordinator predicted during the offseason. And, if his hot start start is any indication, defenses are going to continue to have plenty of trouble guarding Mike in the weeks to come.