Connor Williams’ 2018 season was widely misunderstood but the fact is he laid an important foundation for the future of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line
Dallas Cowboys fans were tough on Connor Williams last season. It’s understandable too. Cowboys Nation has been spoiled with having one of the most dominant lines in the NFL over the past few years, so it’s no wonder Williams received blame when he went through typical rookie struggles.
But the reality is, Willliams had a strong season, given the circumstances, and looks like a versatile building block for the future and even someone with Pro Bowl potential. Let’s assess…
Rated as Pro Football Focus’ 52nd guard in the NFL, Connor Willliams didn’t exactly wow his graders this season. All too often we saw him provide one stinker of a play, negating the five well-executed plays he strung together prior.
But we need to consider the following in our judgement of the rookie:
He was a 21-year-old rookie. In fact, he didn’t even turn 21 until AFTER he was drafted so that made him a young 21. We’re unintentionally comparing Williams to the All-Pro Zack Martin and his rookie season, but we’re forgetting Martin was 24-years old, roughly 4.5 years older than Williams was. That age difference might not mean much to a running back but to an offensive lineman – it’s enormous.
He’d never played guard. Connor Williams was a career tackle. And a pretty dang good one at that. In 932 pass block snaps at Texas, Williams only allowed 27 total pressures. His technique combined with natural athleticism made him a premier left tackle in college. But questions about his length led many to believe he’d be better as a guard (something I happened to disagree with). Whether he ultimately proves to be a guard or tackle remains to be seen, but one can’t underestimate the learning curve a career tackle must overcome to play inside at guard.
His size and strength. As a 20-year-old left tackle, agility and quickness were king at the college level. But things change when playing grown men in the professional ranks. Everyone could see last season Connor Williams was at a disadvantage in both size and strength. It’s surprising he wasn’t beaten more. A full year in the offseason program will do big things for Williams. And remember, he’s still about six years from his physical prime as an offensive lineman. Where he’s at now is really pretty amazing.
His mistakes are correctable. Williams’ struggles aren’t just easily correctable, but he began correcting them as the season wore on. Williams struggled handling stunts and games last year at guard. The NFL gets pretty tricky with them and the players executing them are much faster than anything a college kid sees. We saw Williams noticeably improve here as the game slowed down and as his ability to identify progressed.
A popular narrative in Cowboys Nation is that Xavier Su’a-Filo was better last season than Williams. Not even close. XSF may not have given up the highlight sacks that Williams did early in the season, but play for play he graded worse than Williams by a wide margin.
What the future holds
When the Dallas Cowboys selected guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, it impacted the direction of Connor Williams’ future. Williams will remain the favorite to win the starting guard spot opposite Zack Martin this season. But beyond that he’ll likely be battling for to start at right tackle.
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La’el Collins, Dallas’ current right tackle, is a free agent after this season. And with other players taking priority, Collins will probably wearing a different uniform in 2020. As mentioned earlier, Connor Williams was a top rated tackle in college. Arm length, not performance, is what moved him to guard. But for anyone watching the tape, it was clear Williams was perfectly capable of making up for that deficiency with his superior quickness and agility.
McGovern doesn’t have the position flex that Williams does, and even though he was drafted with a lower grade than Williams, he’ll be asked to play guard in 2020 and beyond. Getting the best five offensive linemen on the field at once is important, and Williams’ experience at tackle are what will make that happen.
Whatever position Connor Williams plays beyond this season, it’s clear – the future is bright for Connor Williams.
- Published on 07/21/2019 at 12:05 PM
- Last updated at 07/21/2019 at 12:05 PM