By: Jason Sarney
It hasn't been a full day since Preston Williams posted a workout picture on his Twitter account, but in the hours since hitting the social media waves, excitement has started to resonate within the Miami Dolphin fan base. Perhaps one of the more talented yet polarizing players on the young Dolphins roster, Williams is 24-years old but coming off his second season-ending injury in as many seasons.
His 2019 rookie season was halted by an ACL injury on a questionable decision to have him return a punt and his injury against the Arizona Cardinals last season is a matter of some conjecture of its cause. The injury seemed to occur on an awkward tackle to his foot, while scoring a touchdown, followed by what many believed could have been caused by celebration after a teammate landed on that same foot.
While the details of the exact extent of how he was injured still up in the air, there is hope Williams can put together a full season in his third year in the league. Williams has played in 16 games in his two seasons, so we have basically a full year’s worth of games to use as a sample size when looking at potential. Before the stats, Williams was playing as a UDFA on a winless team before being a key-factor in their first 2019 victory against the New York Jets, the team he got himself hurt on that punt return. He also caught a pair of touchdowns that day. He also played with Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick flip-flopping at quarterback behind the league’s worst offensive line to start his career.
In his highly anticipated sophomore season, Williams was not utilized as much as many would have liked to see and did still suffer the occasional drop. He seemed to have a terrific rapport with Tua Tagovailoa once named starting quarterback, and that was evident especially in the Arizona game prior to that injury.
Statistically, Williams has 16 games, 50 receptions, 716 yards and 7 touchdowns. Solid not spectacular, sure. Yet when looking at his contracted value of less than $900,000 he has already performed above his cost as an undrafted player as he heads into a make or move-on season essentially for him and Miami.
The Dolphins have a now crowded receiver room, especially with the addition of free agent Will Fuller and rumors of even more coming in the upcoming NFL Draft. Williams is an outside receiver mainly with ability to play in other areas who again, is 24-years old.
Veteran DeVante Parker is no lock to be a Dolphin for the duration of his career, and same to be said for guys like Allen Hurns, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. Each of these targets are multi-million dollar contracted players, so the chances all make it to Week 1 are slim, let alone lifers from here on in South Florida.
Williams is perhaps the most intriguing and underappreciated young talent in the AFC East at the very least, and perhaps NFL as a whole. A key stat in terms of improvement from rookie season to year two was a spike in his yards per catch from 13.4 to 16.0. Another metric to admire is that out of his 50 career receptions, 38 went for 1st downs, and 7 for scores. That’s a score every 7 catches approximately.
Heading back into that Cardinals game prior to injury, Tua had success throwing Williams’ way, having a QB rating of 156.2 while targeting him. In 2019, the quarterback had a collective 79.0 rating, and in 2020 that number improved to 93.5. Another positive progression.
When analyzing the potential of Williams, many skeptics say two things that are a bit misleading. The Drops and being “injury-prone.” The elephant in the room are the drops, and that is something that can be remedied with training and time and of course getting familiar with a quarterback. He had 3 drops in 2020 in 8 games, two coming in a victory against the Rams.
On to the other stigma of injury-proneness, it is arguable that both could have been completely avoided. The punt return-that-never-should-have-happened, in a game where he had already scored a pair of receiving TDs, was a mistake. An unnecessary usage in my opinion.
Last season, the dive into the endzone on a reception led to a horribly awkward tackle, which seemed to see his foot twisted by a Cardinal, only to have a fellow Dolphin land on that once again mentioned foot in a “fluke” type of injury. Neither were non-contact, structurally awkward, or weak-boned scenarios where a player was simply “frail.”
In terms of the athleticism that dubs him his “unicorn” and “glitch” nicknames, he is every bit the wunderkind of a prospect he was in high school. A 5-star recruit ranked just below Calvin Ridley at the time, as well as a national-scouted soccer player, whom was the affection of the University of North Carolina’s program. He excelled in track as well while at Colorado State. In 2017 he was All-Mountain West in the triple-jump.
Williams has been recovering as well as clearly rehabbing and working out, what seems to be ahead of schedule. The ever maturing and improving Dolphin has a full career ahead of him, and a full 16-game potential with Tua. Couple that with a consistent plan on offense within a new offensive scheme with a pair of fresh coordinators and a further solidified offensive line could make Williams a viable weapon in Miami’s arsenal when deployed.
An arsenal that may not produce a 100-catch player, as the ball will likely be spread around to the crowded bunch of pass-catchers Miami now rosters. Williams’ value will be in his quality of receptions in lieu of quantity. His potential of heavy yards per catch as well as his catch to touchdown ratio is of extreme value, and let’s throw in his pair of 2020 2-point conversions for good measure.
With a sky-is-the-limit potential in year three, Williams has the chance to play for a true NFL contract, and not an undrafted deal that has him as a “sweet-and-low” player on a roster with several expensive contracts, as well as extensions and re-signings that need to happen in the near future.
As mentioned before, with a loaded bunch of veteran receivers as well as Fuller in a 1-year deal, Williams could prove himself to be this team’s future outside and/or deep threat. When paired with a few young players in the 2021 draft, as well as a hopeful future with Fuller, Mike Gesicki and a developing Tua, the future is as bright as the orange sun in South Florida for the “unicorn,” Preston Williams.