It’s no secret that Miami Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams has had a rocky path in becoming a NFL receiver.
Transfers, Violence and No Invite
From transferring out of the University of Tennessee in the middle of his second season, to an arrest while at Colorado State University for domestic violence, Williams’ NFL chances diminished year after year.
Despite the NFL’s suspect history in handing out adequate punishments across the board from domestic violence, to cheating, to banned substances, it sent a message early to Williams that his behavior had no place in the league.
Williams wasn’t invited to the 2019 NFL Combine after not meeting the league’s criteria when it came to past violence incidents, citing the 2017 arrest.
Miami Picks Up the Phone
He then went undrafted and saw himself and his talents sitting on the outside looking in before Miami gave him a ring.
After the departure of No. 1 WR Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns a few seasons ago the Dolphins have had one of the worst receiving corps in the league.
Now No. 1 WR, and former No. 14 overall draft pick, DeVante Parker looked to be a laughing stock bust and current No. 3 WR Albert Wilson couldn’t stay on the field healthy after signing a three-year deal and coming over from the Kansas City Chiefs. Miami continued using other WRs in rotation, but none had any substance.
Off-field Issues Hide On-field Success
The diamond in the rough’s success at Colorado State was without a doubt outshadowed by his off-field problems. If you remember, the Dolphins recently cleaned house HARD of all players with off the field and locker room issues severely depleting their defense of talent. So why would they turn to someone like Williams now?
Easy. Williams isn’t just any wideout.
In his only season with the Rams he was named the Mountain West Player-of-the-Year. He played in all 12 games, racked up 1,345 yards paired with 14 touchdowns and was four catches away from 100 on the season. He led the Mountain West in receptions and receiving yards and was second in the conference in receiving TDs.
Gifted Receiver Learns Playbooks Quickly
Williams learned the playbook quickly in his year sitting out (per NCAA transfer rule) and exemplified it on the field in his only season. He mirrored that same skill of quick learning in an even shorter time frame with Miami and was on pace for more than 800 yards last season.
Williams Hits Yet Another Bump in the Road
However, as if Williams didn’t make his journey to Miami hard enough, he was pushed down the road of mental toughness and perseverance again after suffering a torn ACL last November against the New York Jets in his best game of the season.
After playing just eight games (seven starts) his rookie year would be capped at just 32 receptions for 428 yards and three scores, two of them coming that day against the Jets.
With tearing his ACL so late in the season, normal recovery time frames can span from eight months to more than one year. If Williams isn’t recovering from the surgery at the pace to place him on the shorter end of the spectrum, he may not be ready until November or December of 2020. In turn, he could even be in danger of potentially missing the entire season.
‘Ahead of Schedule’ Reports Surface
Thankfully, in late May, it was reported that Williams was actually ahead of schedule on his recovery and increasing his rehabilitation workouts and workload while getting one-on-one care at Miami’s facilities (Miami Herald, FPC Dolphins).
But still, even if Williams is cleared by the start of the regular season or a few weeks into it, is he worthy of the No. 2 role he earned during his rookie campaign?
ACL injuries pose many questions. Individual strength and agility workouts are quite different than having your leg sandwiched in the middle of a game.
Williams Has More Company in 2020
Miami has since signed, promoted and acquired WRs since bringing on Williams last year.
Parker has finally solidified himself as Miami’s No. 1, but Wilson recently restructured his contract and took a massive pay cut to remain on the roster. Wilson’s versatility, speed and ability to play in the slot makes him a vital piece of a needy offense. The Dolphins also signed and recently extended Allen Hurns, who appeared in games last season for Miami after spending time with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys.
WRs Jakeem Grant re-sgined to a four year deal last offseason and Miami is finally utilizing Virginia Tech standout Isaiah Ford more. Gary Jennings (Seattle Seahawks) and Mack Hollins (Philadelphia Eagles) are still rostered after being claimed off waivers in 2019, along with Ricardo Louis who is once again back on the roster. Additionally, Kirk Merritt and Matt Cole joined the squad after going undrafted in 2020.
Williams Will Make 2020 Roster, But What Playing Time Will He Receive?
While cuts still need to be made and players needing to be promoted down to the practice squad, Williams likely will be neither. However, the four-year deal from Grant, the restructure of Wilson and the extension to Hurns has created another uphill battle for Williams.
Williams shined in the role last season with Wilson still recovering from his season-ending hip injury in 2018 and Miami using Grant on special teams more than anything else. Furthermore, Hurns wasn’t ready to take a lead role in the offense having signed with the team not even two months prior to the start of the season.
As of right now it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dolphins keep Grant on special teams. But not using Wilson in a make or break contract year? Not using Hurns after extending him? Unlikely.
Small Sample Size Creates a Sure Toss-Up
With such a small sample size, can we believe Williams will come back right on track and inch closer to those 800-plus yards and nearly double-digit TD reception seasons? Or will he take more time to ease back into his capabilities and have game caps like Wilson did last season?
Miami may not have multiple top-name receivers, but with as many scrappy guys on the roster who caught TDs just last season in what many misinformed outsiders called a “lost season”, 2020 offers the potential for a shocking turnaround for those outsiders.
Boiling down the numbers and what each WR offers, the only player who could be solidified from week to week could be Parker. The Dolphins could feature at least a three-headed monster outside of him rotating guys from play to play. If Williams wants a solidified role like last year, he’ll have to show early that he’s back to the same level, if not a higher one, possibly even before the season opener.