People thought the San Francisco 49ers would go for a big time wide receiver somewhere April’s 2006 NFL draft. What they were looking at and what they picked was somewhat of a surprise to many fans because of Brandon Williams’ physical stature, and preconceived notions that he looks like a Pee Wee Herman inside the NFL.

The former Wisconsin Badger only stands 5-foot-9 inches, and weighs a fraction over 174 pounds. He has tremendous speed and athleticism though, as seen in his standing in the 40-yard dash registering 4.52 seconds. He has been practicing in Santa Clara with the 49ers returning punts, and is being looked at seriously to be the new premier slot wide receiver the 49ers have been missing these past few seasons.

One thing Brandon Williams will be open and honest with you about though, is that he is tough. Tough because he had to play for the Badgers alongside much bigger and taller teammates, and had to face the stiff challenges of being productive while struggling to break the identity of being just plain small. One thing Brandon is and has been is productive and unafraid to go over the middle to catch the ball. The consequences of being a slot receiver and going over the middle in the NFL can be hazardous to your health. Yet he brushes off the connotations associated with this, works hard catching balls on the 49er practice field, and is displaying his uncanny ability to cut, find the seams, and make defenders miss him altogether.

Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan sat in the San Francisco 49er war room during this draft and both came away intrigued and impressed with what they saw in Wisconsin’s Brandon Williams. The many muffed punts that Mike Nolan was a witness to on the 49er sidelines last season were enough to make one’s skin crawl. I can remember vividly Otis Amey and Rasheed Marshall muffing punts that either cost us great field position or turned the ball over altogether. That, my friends, was pulling the “special” out of Special Teams altogether… and then some.

Securing a reliable return man was something on the top of Mike Nolan’s mind as the third round came into play. Now when you think of a wide receiver, he is not the prototypical type you first think about for sure. In fact, he is looked upon as being a runt in the litter, so to speak, in many a man’s terms. Brandon Williams was chosen in the third round as the 84th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. The one thing he has already done is make a good first impression with his numbers in the 40-yard dash and his pass catching abilities at mini-camps.

He has already put Rasheed Marshall’s career as a San Francisco 49er in grave danger, as Marshall is having a hard time catching and securing the ball in drills and practices out on the field thus far.

“I’d like to think this guy can come in and be our starting return man,” Nolan said. “You’re in a better position when you’ve had a guy that’s done it before.”

And that is something he has proven as a Wisconsin Badger, and he has done a darn good job at it. At Hazelwood East High School, Williams earned Prep Stars, Super Prep and Prep Football Report All-Midlands honors. He was a two-time, second-team All-State and three-time, first-team All-Conference selection. Brandon Williams caught 97 passes for 2,157 yards, returned 58 punts for 1,210 yards and scored 23 total touchdowns during his Badger career.

He also had six career interceptions, and served as football team captain as a senior at the University of Wisconsin. He lettered in track as a member of the school’s two-time state champion 4x200-meter relay team. He went on to become a four-year honor roll student and he graduated with a 3.1 grade point average.

San Francisco 49ers return game last season was absolutely pathetic to say the least. The man that was thought to be the future premiere return specialist, Rasheed Marshall, never materialized. Marshall, a former quarterback endured a rocky transition while becoming a return specialist. He averaged only 5.1 yards in 17 punt returns and made an ill-advised attempt to catch a fourth-quarter punt amid howling winds, leading to a fumble that assisted the Chicago Bears in securing a 19-7 victory.

When you compare Brandon Williams with other leading wide receivers in the league, the conclusion comes forth that he can make it in a world of tall receivers. When you take a look at some other successful smaller receivers like Steve Smith and Santana Moss, it is then that you know Williams can succeed in the right situation. Although both Smith and Santana are more compact and have added on weight to bulk-up what tiny framework they have in order to strengthen their durability and to break tackles, Williams has the same option of duplicating what they did.

There is little that question that Brandon will need to add some weight to his tiny frame in order to become successful in this league while taking cheap shots and getting back up right after the fact. He’ll be challenged early and often by a secondary eager to rid him from the game itself, week in and week out.

But the fact that stands out to me about Brandon Williams is his elusiveness and he’ll use that as a means of compensation to some degree. One Wisconsin fan recollects what Williams is capable of doing on the football field as anything short of extraordinary. In fact, they don’t see his size as being a problem at all because he has an uncanny ability to get wide open on a moments notice.

He has great hands and manages to locate and find the seams on kick returns that he uses to his advantage in getting positive yardage. This guy could be compared to Lavernius Coles or even Deion Branch as a typical smaller type of wide receiver in the NFL today. He very well could surprise most fans with a rare insight to his world by all of a sudden becoming a decoy to both Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle.

Here is the tale of the tape on Wisconsin’s Brandon Williams who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs around 174 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds and has been compared to Santana Moss.

Strengths: He is always improving upon his skills with each and every season. Runs smooth, quick routes. He flashes a great burst and controls his body well while changing directions. Can set-up man-to-man cornerbacks well with his double moves. He is always in a position to make the play. Can find soft spots in zones. Displays extraordinary hands; does not drop passes.

He very rarely lets a pass get into his body. Is willing and capable of catching passes over the middle while in traffic. Shows the vision and elusiveness to gain yardage after the catch, and has great potential as a kick return specialist.

Weaknesses: Lacks height and weight. He’ll struggle to escape jams from physical NFL cornerbacks. He may never be a starter because of his small stature. Struggles to make plays in the red zone, and will be bullied by NFL defenders.

Overall: Brandon Williams has the hands, quickness and instincts to thrive as a slot receiver. Expect him to contribute immediately on special teams.

Another factor that played into Mike Nolan’s mind was when he was coaching the South squad at this past season’s Senior Bowl. Two fumbled punts by the South led to quick scores.

The scary reminder was for him the repeat of what happened to our 2005 NFL season. It was a problem then and still is a problem now until it is proven otherwise. Brandon Williams holds the school career record at the University of Wisconsin with 202 receptions, topping the previous mark of 175 held by Lee Evans (1999-2003). His 2,924 yards receiving are topped only by Evans (3,468) in Wisconsin history. His touchdown catches tied Jeff Mack (1972-74) for ninth in school history.

Williams has a small, slender frame, but shows very good shoulder, arm and leg muscle definition. What some don’t realize is that he could conceivably carry an additional 10 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness. He has been rated with above average flexibility and change of direction skills that allow him to make the proper body adjustments on the move. He does lack strength to defeat the jam imposed by cornerbacks, but generates good explosion coming off the snap to elude.

This skinny runt from St. Louis, Missouri is packing more than meets the eye. He knows how to work the sidelines with precision and looks natural adjusting to boundary throws. He excels in gaining separation when going across the field; this mainly is due to his ability to slip through tight areas. Williams has very natural hands as an elite catcher, despite his small frame. He does a great job of protecting the ball before heading up field (one fumble in the last two years). He displays good timing and concentration while sacrificing himself to make the catch in a crowd. He will always fight for the ball, but due to his size and strength limitations, he will get bounced back quite a bit. He is extremely durable too, having missed only one game in his career at the University of Wisconsin and by being limited in spring drills. However, he could not perform on Pro Day due to a right tibia stress fracture.

I see Brandon Williams as the main return specialist outside of Arnaz Battle and Maurice Hicks. Jason McAddley has also been used in pinch situations from time to time as well. I can also see Williams competing for the third and fourth wide receiver positions with special attention being attributed to his ability to play the slot position.

So can Brandon Williams make the cut? He already is according to wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, who has been impressed with his catches in mini-camps and individual workouts. He very well could be the next exciting small wide receiver in the NFL. We need him to be on special teams in a big way, and to be a weapon of opportunity for Alex Smith in the future. My money says he’ll make a positive impact based upon his progress and attitude thus far and his outstanding career at Wisconsin.