When D’haquille Williams announced his decision to return for his senior season, he left millions on the table. ESPN’s Mel Kiper projected Williams as an “early-round pick” along with teammate Sammie Coates — who did declare for April’s draft and was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 87 overall.
The ESPN draft pundit continued to praise the receivers’ draft stock following his announcement to return to school.
“Duke Williams will be the elite guy you would think and you would hope next year,” Kiper said during a teleconference in January. “I think when you look at Duke Williams he’ll be the No. 1 guy and next year he’ll go into the season right there at the top. There’s not going to be many receivers rated ahead, if any rated ahead of Duke Williams going into the season. He’s going to have a very high grade.”
Williams recorded a team-best 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games. The sophomore suffered an MCL tear in Week 11 against Texas A&M and missed the next two games. He returned against Alabama in Week 14 and had seven catches for 121 yards.
However, Williams’ season would end with his memorable Iron Bowl performance. The sophomore served an undisclosed suspension that forced him to miss the Outback Bowl.
“I let my teammates down and I’m sorry for that,” Williams told the website. “I let the Auburn family down, too, and I’m sorry for that. I made a mistake, so I have to learn by that. As the days go by, and the game gets closer, I think about that because I could be out there playing with my brothers.”
All seemed fine among the Auburn faithful as optimism arose for the upcoming season with the prospect of Williams’ return and the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. But the wide receiver forced fans into a frenzy after a series of cryptic tweets on May 6 insinuated that he was unhappy:
Williams would later delete each of the tweets. Head coach Gus Malzahn addressed his receiver’s status the following week.
“Kids are going to be kids,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to do a better job with what we tweet out.”
Williams’ decision to forego the NFL draft was wise. The 2015 draft was loaded with talented wide receiver prospects, which may have hindered his stock.
But above all else, Williams needs to prove he’s matured since his bowl game suspension. So far, the rising senior has some work to do.
His indecisiveness and poor judgement could raise red flags for potential NFL suitors. Williams is the No. 1 prospect entering the 2015 season and should play up to expectations in Auburn’s uptempo offense. But he must carry himself like a senior both on and off the field in order to meet expectations and succeed at the next level.