by Angel Maldonado (@Angel_TejadaJr)
Making the Leap is a series where we take a look at young and promising players and see if they have the makings of a breakout candidate this year. So far, we’ve taken a look at D.K Metcalf and his breakout potential. Today, we take a look at undrafted second year Wide Receiver Preston Williams. Can Preston Williams make the leap in 2020?
13.8 Yards Per Reception
Standing 6’5” and weighing in at 211 lbs, Williams has the size general managers desire of a WR1 in the NFL. Despite possessing plenty of potential, off-field concerns prevented his name from being called during the 2019 NFL Draft. Miami, however, decided to give Williams an opportunity and signed him as an UDFA and Williams has made the most of the opportunity. It became obvious as early as OTAs that Williams would be sticking around, but even that expectation proved to be a floor as he started alongside Devante Parker Week 1 against the Ravens, a game in which Williams finished with 3 catches for 24 yards and a touchdown, numbers he would continue to improve on. He was thrown right into the fire, facing defenses that would finish 2019 12th (BAL), 1st (NE), 6th (DAL), 4th (LAC), 3rd (BUF). and 8th (PIT) 6 out of his 8 games (Via Rotowire). Despite that, Parker was on pace for 64 receptions for 856 yards and 6 touchdowns… as a rookie. The Dolphins had a much easier second half of the schedule as well (matchups against the Bengals, Jets, and Giants were especially enticing) so it isn’t a stretch to assume Williams could have improved on those numbers.
Whether it’s against man coverage or zone, Williams has shown the ability to find open space on the outside. However, his most impressive attribute was his body control (look at his first career touchdown for the earliest example of this) and ability to win contested balls (47.6% on 21 targets). Despite his disappointing 40 yard dash (official 4.66 time, same as TE Stephen Sullivan) he displayed the long speed necessary to beat cornerbacks deep and cornerbacks respected that ability, giving him an average of 4.09 yards of cushion. Of concern was his inability to create yardage after the catch (only 47 YAC all year) and his concentration (5 drops in 8 games). Williams benefited tremendously from playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick (a gunslinger if nothing else) and game script (42.1 pass plays per game). Just as he was having his best game as a pro against the Jets, Williams suffered the second ACL tear of his career and that would abruptly end his campaign.
Despite his overall success in 2019, Williams is in a precarious position entering 2020. ACL’s are no longer career enders thanks to modern medicine, but history tells us that it can still impact a player’s career short term. In addition to the 9 months of rehab before they can take the field, it typically takes another year for a wide receiver to return to who they were before the injury (think of Wes Welker and Allen Robinson). Considering the lack of draft capital invested into him, it will be easier for the Dolphins to cut ties with Williams if he doesn’t continue to show the potential he did before his ACL injury, particularly considering the almost assuredly high draft capital the Dolphins will have in 2021 . In addition, chances are Tua will play the majority of the season as Ryan Fitzpatrick takes on a mentor role (again). Despite Fitzpatrick’s inability to lead a contending team, he is a gunslinger that makes his receivers more productive for fantasy purposes and the upgrade at QB may not necessarily translate over to fantasy football for the Dolphins pass-catchers. The combination of ACL recovery and a new quarterback make it likely Williams won’t reach the 1,000 yard plateau this season, but his inexpensive contract should afford him another chance in 2021 under a more experienced Tua Tagovailoa.
Williams is an interesting case because he has the size of a No.1 receiver, overachieved his first year in the league, and will be playing for a team that will be trailing plenty in 2020. However, his ACL rehab and lack of YAC worry me enough to keep me from ranking him as anything more than a mid-tier WR4 in 2020. His cheap price, potential, and lack of competition makes him worth inquiring about in Dynasty circles (he’s a favorite sleeper for many people), but he can’t be counted on to revert to 2019 form right away and should be considered a long term project.
Projection: WR38-44 in 2019, BUY in Dynasty Leagues.