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Is Preston Williams the Next UDFA Star?

Exceptions to the norm tend to throw people off their game.

Take Phillip Lindsay, for example. The undrafted running back from Colorado became the first undrafted offensive rookie to be selected to the Pro Bowl. He also became the first undrafted running back to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark in back-to-back seasons.

Talk about a difficult player to appropriately evaluate.

Another player who is primed to break the mold for what is needed to succeed in the NFL is Preston Williams. While his rookie season was cut short due to injury, I believe this undrafted player has untapped potential.

On-Field Success / Off-Field Issues

To say that Williams had a tumultuous collegiate career off the field would be an understatement. He failed several drug tests during his time at both Tennessee and Colorado State and he was denied an invite to the NFL combine due to a physical altercation with his then ex-girlfriend.

On the field, he never received much of a chance until his first year with Colorado State which was also his last year in college. He broke onto the scene with a ridiculous stat line.

This past summer, Neil Dutton tabbed Williams as one of his deep sleepers to monitor heading into camp. The production on the field cannot be ignored, but the issues off the field have to be taken into consideration as well.

Rookie Sensation

Williams made an immediate impact right from the start. For a team that was supposedly tanking, he made his presence felt in every game he played. To spoil the fun before we get too far, Williams did go down with an ACL tear in Week 9.

Here’s an interesting note on the Dolphins offense: it didn’t matter who the quarterback was (it bounced between Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick for the first six weeks); they threw the ball at the third-highest rate in the league during the nine weeks Williams was healthy.

Williams wasn’t able to post a positive efficiency rating over his eight games played. While this isn’t a death sentence for a young wideout, it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.

During the games in which Fitzpatrick was the primary quarterback, his adjusted yards per attempt were the highest when targeting Williams by over a full yard compared to the next pass-catching option.

The opportunities were there and, as we’ll see in a bit, the structure of the offense and the future potential of the team look bright for Williams.

Historical Comps

The RotoViz Screener might be my favorite statistical and analytical tool of all time. As I was doing some digging into Williams, I ran a comparison on his rookie year using a few basic measurables for wide receivers.

Let’s just say I got a little bit excited.

The big names jump off the screen but the draft capital stands out as well. Williams performed well above where he “should” have based on his undrafted status, but it remains to be seen if he will be a consistent fantasy producer moving forward.

Taking this idea a step further, I looked at the sophomore campaigns for the same cohort to see what a potential second-year jump may look like for Williams.

My excitement continued.

If Williams can match the production of his cohort moving forward, he will be a valuable fantasy asset for years to come.

Tanking for Tua

The Dolphins started this past season by infamously “Tanking for Tua.” Supposedly targeting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Dolphins’ season got off to a rocky start. Their first game resulted in them getting torched by the Baltimore Ravens and they began the season by losing their first seven games.

Williams didn’t taste victory until his final game in Week 9. However, despite the rough start, some underlying positives signaled potential success for Williams moving forward.

Air yards are fun to follow because they give you an insight into how an offense is designed and how the opportunities are distributed. Take a look at Williams’ air yards during his short rookie stint.

That’s an impressive number and ties in well with the Dolphins passing at the third-highest rate while Williams was active. 

Even more impressive is that Williams finished as the WR12 on a per-game basis in the air yards category despite only playing eight games. The Dolphins were the only team to have two wide receivers in the top 12 of the air yards/game as teammate DeVante Parker finished as the WR3.

Looking Ahead

With Fitzpatrick likely coming back for another season, and signs pointing to Miami drafting Tua and letting him sit for a year to get healthy and gain experience, there’s no reason to think that Williams can’t continue improving on his rookie success.

In his own right, Tua is projected (when healthy) to be an accurate, pro-ready quarterback with good field vision and decision-making skills. Tua and Willams could be a fun tandem to watch in the coming years.

Williams is a cheap option at the wide receiver position but the fantasy community is beginning to come around on him. His rookie production was impressive and his historical comps (minus the draft capital, obviously) are hard to ignore. Check out where Shawn Siegele took Williams when he recently redrafted the 2019 rookie class.

There’s a reason for optimism with both Fitzpatrick and potentially Tua as his future quarterback(s), and Williams could be a fantasy difference-maker once this undrafted player’s potential is unleashed.

Image Credit: Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Preston Williams.

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