Every year there seems to be a preseason stud who comes out of nowhere to “wow” the league and make people wonder if what they’re seeing from games that “don’t matter” will make all the difference when it comes to those precious 16 games that really do count.
In 2019, one player who fit that bill was an undrafted rookie for the Miami Dolphins, Preston Williams.
Williams was a five-star prospect coming out of Lovejoy, Georgia, with scholarship offers from just about every college one could dream to have on their selection table; Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M, to name some of the big ones. In the end, the talented receiver committed to the Tennessee Volunteers. Most expected it would be a short stay in Knoxville, as Williams was destined for the pro level in just a few short years.
But that stay ended up being even shorter than anticipated. Williams played just a season and a half for the Vols, where he caught just 16 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. Williams didn’t even see the field full time in those two years, as he was suspended for most of the 2016 season following arrests for harassment, tampering and domestic violence. Williams pleaded guilty to the harassment charge in January of 2018 and received a deferred sentence. The other charges were dismissed by Larimer County Court Judge Mary Joan Berenato, according to court records.
Williams did not play football during the 2017 season following his suspension, as he applied to transfer from Tennessee and was forced to sit out a year. The place he next played football was Colorado State.
Williams got a second chance, in football and in who he was as a person, under CSU head coach Mike Bobo. In Bobo’s offense, Williams thrived. In his lone season in the Rams’ program, Williams caught 96 passes for 1,345 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. Those receptions and receiving yards were tops in the Mountain West Conference and his receiving touchdowns were second-best.
Despite the single-season success, the former 5-star recruit went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft. He signed with the Dolphins to try to make a name for himself in camp on a receiver depth chart that didn’t have many spots marked as already filled.
With fellow talented youngest Josh Rosen at quarterback, Williams settled in right away. In his first preseason game, Williams caught four passes for 97 yards. That kind of chemistry and display of talent was enough for Williams to make the regular season 53-man roster.
Not only did Williams make the roster, but he was also a starter. Through the first eight games of the season, Williams’ 32 receptions and 428 receiving yards were both tops on the team. Unfortunately, in Week 8 Williams suffered a torn ACL that ended his stellar rookie season early. Following Williams’ injury, fellow wide receiver DeVante Parker had a second half of the season that resulted in a career year for him.
Going into 2020, the question is what Williams’ role will be for the Dolphins and just how much they can expect from him. Was 2019 just the tip of the iceberg?
During his rookie campaign, Rosen was subbed out for veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. But even with Fitzpatrick, Williams continued to thrive. That shows that he did not just depend on singular chemistry and should be re-slotted right into a starting role once again with the Dolphins. This also bodes well for Williams once rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa becomes the eventual starter; they can continue to depend on Williams as one of Tagovailoa’s top options.
Even more evidence of Williams’ spot being solidified is that the Dolphins entered free agency with the most amount of money to play with, and after a roster-changing amount of money spent, no receiver was among the notable names. And to give even more confidence to Williams’ outlook, of the 11 draft picks the Dolphins had, the only receiver selection was their very last one in the seventh round.
When debating whether or not Williams’ first eight games were a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come, just remember that this one of the most coveted recruits in the country whose success caused a team with plenty of resources to believe they didn’t need to touch the receiver room.