Preston Williams’ Role in 2021

In a year of turnover and controversy at the Quarterback position, Miami Dolphins receivers had a tough time gaining chemistry with their signal callers. DeVante Parker led the receiving group with a surprisingly low 793 yards, being in and out of the lineup with injuries.

With Parker’s inconsistency and health issues, second year receiver Preston Williams seemed like the logical answer to Miami’s problems.

During a 2019 season where Williams played in only 8 games due to a knee injury, he showed a knack for big plays and a large catch radius with his 6’5″ frame. Racking up 428 yards, it looked like Williams was poised for a breakout year in 2020.

Preston Williams scores a touchdown against the Jets.

But the anticipated year didn’t live up to expectations, as Williams suffered from drops, only surpassed 100 yards once and had another season ending injury after only playing 8 games. He finished the year with a 65.5 grade from PFF and 6 games under 50 yards.

Facing disappointing seasons from their top 2 contributors in Parker and Williams, the Dolphins heavily addressed the wide receiver, adding elite separators in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle. They hope that their speed and route running can complement the contested catch abilities of the receivers currently on the roster.

But with those additions, a new question arises: What happens with Preston Williams?

While his 2020 season was lackluster, Williams is still a young, cheap contributor in this receiving room. Going into his age 24 season, he will still make under $900,000. This makes cutting him virtually useless (and unlikely), as he still slots in to make the team and the cap savings would be miniscule.

Trading him doesn’t seem reasonable either, because his production is too low for a team to give up significant value but he’s far too talented for Miami to trade him for a minimal return.

But entering the final year of his contract, Williams must show that he can stay healthy for a full season and perform well enough to earn an extension and a spot in Miami’s long term plans.

So the real speculation comes in how Williams figures into this team and where his role will be.

As far as the depth chart, Williams will most likely enter training camp somewhere between the 3rd and 5th receiver spot, in contention with 1st round pick Jaylen Waddle and veteran Albert Wilson, who is returning after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns.

After being drafted in the first round, it can be assumed that Waddle will get plenty of playing time off the bat, as the Dolphins will look for early production out of the slot. As for Wilson, he hasn’t played a full season since joining the Dolphins in 2018, where he showed promise under the Adam Gase regime.

Albert Wilson scores a touchdown against the Raiders.

Although Williams has seniority over players such as Jaylen Waddle and Lynn Bowden, who the Dolphins acquired from the Las Vegas Raiders last offseason, analysts see him getting significantly less target share than he did in 2020.

Analyst Mike Clay projects targets for the Miami Dolphins.

As analysts such as Clay see Williams as no more than a roster bubble type player, there is still hope that the UDFA that was once looked at as a rising star could see a significant number of targets.

Aside from Parker, Williams is the only notable wide receiver with the ability to create mismatches with his size when the field gets smaller. His ability and athleticism could lead to him getting increased targets in the red zone, as that’s where he has thrived in the past, and separation becomes less of a priority.

Preston Williams catches a touchdown against the Jets.

Although 2nd year QB Tua Tagovailoa’s skillset promotes more of the route running and YAC play of Fuller and Waddle, Williams was one of his favorite targets as a rookie. In the minimal time they played together (only about a game and a half), Williams saw 6 receptions. Of those, 4 came in the first half of the Cardinals game, including a 30 yard pass and a red zone touchdown.

Preston Williams scores a touchdown against the Cardinals.

Tagovailoa looked much more comfortable when Williams was in the lineup than he did with any of the other receivers, as the young QB posted a game widely regarded as his best (against the Cardinals).

Even though other receivers will be considered for the higher spots on the depth chart, Tagovailoa’s chemistry and comfortability cannot be overstated, as many of the moves made this offseason were to maximize his effectiveness in the offense. If he and Williams continue to work on their connection in training camp, there is a good chance we could see a specific yet crucial role for him in his 3rd season.

At the end of the day, Williams’ spot is very much up for grabs. Over the coming weeks, the depth chart will begin to materialize, and the once up and coming wide receiver will need to capitalize on his opportunities to continue his development at the NFL level.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter.

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