Troy Williamson Exemption (Combine Pick)


troy williamson dropping another pass

Synopsis: Prior to the 2005 Draft, the Vikings traded All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss to the Raiders for a 1st round pick. In need of a deep-ball threat, Minnesota used that pick to take South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson. The former Gamecock had noticeable flaws as a receiver, but he certainly could run fast. At the combine, he ran the 40 in a blistering time of 4.32 seconds. Unfortunately, he couldn’t catch the ball. In retrospect, the player’s failure could have been predicted so it’s hard to call him a bust. On behalf of all players taken too early because of combine results, I offer the Troy Williamson Exemption.


When determining potential Top 10 Busts, I developed the following criteria as a way to eliminate less deserving candidates.

  1. The player needs to be a top 10 overall draft pick (a.k.a. The Brady Quinn Exemption).
  2. The player needs to be a bona fide superstar coming out of college (a.k.a. The Troy Williamson Exemption).
  3. The player’s on-field performance needs to be historically bad (a.k.a. The Tony Mandarich Exemption).
  4. The player’s unproductive career cannot be the result of an injury (a.k.a. The Steve Emtman Exemption).
  5. The player needs to receive a fair chance to compete on the field (a.k.a. The Rich Campbell Exemption).

In this post, I establish the second criterion by detailing the selection of 2005 #7 overall pick Troy Williamson. Generally speaking, the top 10 overall picks have proven themselves as accomplished college superstars. At times, however, players move up to the top of the draft due to an incredible feat of speed or strength at the combine. Williamson serves as an example of such a player.

Clearly, not all college superstars succeed at the next level. Unsuccessful former Heisman winners arguably could fill a Top 10 list of all-time busts just on their own. I offer Gino Torretta, Eric Crouch, Jason White, and Troy Smith as just a few examples. Then again, NFL teams understood their weaknesses and didn’t waste high draft picks on them.

Based on The Brady Quinn Exemption, theses players went too low to be considered busts. By adding the Troy Williamson ExemptIon, I intend to limit the field of potential all-time busts to players who were not only high picks, but also deserving of being high picks.


As a junior at South Carolina, Williamson had 43 receptions for 835 yards and seven touchdowns. In order to finish in the top 10 in any of those categories, he would have needed approximately twice as many receptions, 40% more yards, or 70% more touchdowns. To have been the outright leader, he would have needed approximately 150% more receptions, 70% more yards, or 160% more touchdowns. Still, he thought he had accomplished enough to leave school early and enter the draft.

Almost two months before the 2005 Draft, the Vikings decided to part ways with Randy Moss. It’s true that Moss’s numbers dipped after sitting out a few games with an injury. Then again, the front office likely let him go because of a series of embarrassing situations. Who could forget the mock-mooning TD celebration, or the “Straight Cash, Homey” video clip? Apparently, the Vikings wanted to.

In a trade with the Raiders, the Vikings received two 2005 draft picks (a 1st rounder and a 7th rounder) and LB Napoleon Harris. Apparently, the Vikings planned to use that first pick replace their All-Pro receiver. Williamson possessed the speed to spread defenses like his predecessor. Unfortunately, he couldn’t catch the ball in the same way.

Troy Williamson

This picture doesn’t do justice to the dropped ball when compared to the actual video clip. Of note, the closest defender was at least 10 yards away. In case you skipped the clip, the commentator offered the following observation.

When you’re a wide receiver in pro football, I think your job description is you’ve got to be able to catch. And, he hasn’t been able to catch.

After playing in 49 games from 2005-2009, Williamson caught 87 passes for 1,131 yards, scored four TDs and had a Weighted Average Value of eight. Throughout his career, Williamson became better known for the passes he dropped than the ones he caught.

Williamson had a bust-worthy career for a top 10 overall pick. However, any expectations of him were based on wishful thinking and not on prior achievement. Since his lack of production shouldn’t have come as a big surprise, he became the inspiration for what I call the Troy Williamson Exemption. In essence, an all-time bust shouldn’t have any noticeable deficiencies before the pick is made.


As a junior, Maryland wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey had 42 receptions for 609 yards and five touchdowns. In order to finish in the top 10 in any of these categories, he would have had to double his production. Specifically, he needed 56 more receptions, 591 more yards, and six more touchdowns. Furthermore, he would have needed almost 4x as many receptions, 3x as many yards and 4x as many touchdowns to be the outright leader in any category. Needless to say, there were a lot of more accomplished receivers than Heyward-Bey. Regardless, he declared early for the 2009 NFL Draft.

If his resume sounds familiar it should. In fact, Heyward-Bey and Williamson could have been twins. First, they both left college early despite significantly trailing the statistical leaders during their final seasons. Second, they both were lightning fast and ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in around 4.3 seconds. Third, they both went with the 7th overall pick based on their speed at the combine more so than for their accomplishments in college. For these reasons, they both qualify for the Troy Williamson Exemption

Darrius Heyward-Bey - The Return of Troy Williamson
Similar to Williamson, Heyward-Bey has caught fewer than 50% of the passes targeted to him. At least Heyward-Bey heard actual footsteps before dropping this pass

While Heyward-Bey didn’t live up to what the Raiders might have hoped, he has accumulated over 2,400 yards from scrimmage along with 12 touchdowns. With a career twice as productive as Williamson’s, Heyward-Bey has avoided all-time bust status. In essence, he also earned the Tony Mandarich Exemption for players whose careers just weren’t bad enough to be declared a Top 10 Bust.

Still in the league, Heyward-Bey has a chance to completely shed the “bust” label. In contrast, Williamson’s career is long over so he will be stuck with the label forever.

[Heyward-Bey has been on the Steelers’ active roster for the last four seasons (i.e. since I originally wrote this post). During that time, he has had approximately 30 catches for 500 yards with 4 touchdowns. When added to his previous totals, these numbers haven’t changed his legacy much. At least he still has the exemptions.]

As detailed throughout this post, Williamson’s on-field accomplishments certainly weren’t indicative of a top 10 draft pick. In response, I have limited the pool of potential Top 10 NFL Draft Busts to winners/finalists of year-end awards (e.g. Heisman, Butkus, Maxwell, etc.) or players ranked as NCAA leaders for certain offensive/defensive categories.