Every football season we are introduced to successful players, but the shelf life of some is much shorter than others. The Dallas Cowboys have had a good team filled with one-year wonders on both sides of the ball. The number of players per roster exposes itself to such randomness and is a big reason why there is so much roster turnover in a four-year span.
We have now reached the point of the NFL offseason where content is dry and the news is filled with nonsensical hot takes about the upcoming season. I feel it couldn’t be a better time to shake up the timeline with some reflections on players from the past decade of Cowboys football. We can reflect on why the player worked and how the team was influenced by said football player.
Today’s Dallas Cowboy is a wide receiver who hailed from Dallas and played his college ball two hours south in Waco, Texas. He was an integral part of the Dallas Cowboys offense from 2013-2017 but his rapid disappearance from the game is about as confusing as how he earned a starting spot on an NFL offense and a second contract with the same team. If the title didn’t give it away, the player is Terrance Williams.
Williams played football at Baylor for four years exponentially increasing in production each year he played. In his final season as a Bear, he caught 97 receptions for 1832 yards and 12 touchdowns. This was quite the step up from his junior year where he caught 59 receptions for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Williams was incredibly productive in Waco in large part due to Art Briles “run-and-shoot” style offense which was obsessed with vertical passing. In Williams’ final season, he averaged 18.2 yards per catch; doing that 97 times is incredible. At the time, Cowboys HC Jason Garrett was also obsessed with vertical passing so Williams seemed like a scheme fit from the beginning. But here was the issue…
Baylor receivers, while productive in college, didn’t always translate to the NFL. Under Briles’ tenure he saw two receiver get drafted in the first round, Kendall Wright and Corey Coleman. Neither made it past their first contracts. Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams were the only ones with some form of stable success in the league. Gordon has struggled with substance abuse, so not necessarily applicable in this case, and Williams vanished from the scene two years into his second contract.
Wright, Coleman, and Gordon had some athletic upside as receivers. Wright posted good agility times and good jump numbers. Coleman recorded a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash. Gordon is built incredibly well and is incredibly explosive as he proved to be an excellent contested-catch threat in his playing career. (He also won in a multitude of ways)
Terrence Williams though? His pro day numbers were quite underwhelming…
He tested poorly… First, his hand size explains why he routinely caught with his body. His arm length feels oddly disproportionate to the rest of his frame, but that doesn’t carry as much relevance to his performance as hand size. His explosiveness was poor on his vertical jump, 10-yard split, and 3-cone drill.
His athletic profile was in line with an average receiver; his production in the NFL mirrored the same idea. Williams didn’t record a single 1000 yard season, didn’t catch more than 55 passes in a season, and he didn’t average more than 53 yards per game for a season. In 2015, the year where Tony Romo and Dez Bryant missed extended time due to injury, his Expected Points Added per play was near the lowest of his career. (More on this later)
We’ve talked at length about his background and numbers without discussing much of his career. So let’s try to answer this question:
Was Terrance Williams a good receiver?
Hopefully, by working through the things the former Cowboys receiver did well, didn’t do well, and were instructed to do, we can get a greater sense of clarity about why his career went through the arch it did. The goal was to watch 12 games from his illustrious career choosing the best, the worst, and statistically anomalous games in 2013 through 2017. Hopefully, 12 games worth of film can help me answer this question…
Let’s get started, shall we?