Dallas Cowboys: A Terrance Williams Retrospective (what we learned)

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /
4 of 4
dallas cowboys
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys /


We’ve evaluated Williams under the microscope and have understood how and why he won in the league. After watching his tape over and over, he should have been playing the X receiver spot in a vertical passing game. Fortunately, the Cowboys got one of those things right.

Unlike most X receivers, he doesn’t display good adjustment and adjusting ability, but he did show that he could handle press coverage and consistently stack his defender out of his release. He didn’t have the athleticism and strength to win like most Xs nor the precision in his route running as most Zs, so if anything, it really raises the question if he should’ve been starting in the first place?

According to his EPA data from 2013-2017, Williams was most efficient when he was targeted less. (Higher EPA per play was the measure of efficiency here) In his two most efficient seasons, he was targeted the fourth highest behind Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley. When Williams was at his best, he was fairly low on the target depth chart meaning a lot more one-on-one matchups for him on the outside.

It’s time like these where we often forget just how great Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Jason Witten were together. Witten from 2013-2015 was averaging 760 yards per season and a catch percentage of just under 71 percent. Bryant was a walking touchdown in the same time period tallying a staggering 32 touchdowns in 41 games. We shan’t forget our fellow SMU Mustang Cole Beasley who caught 72 percent of his passes in that time span and was Romo’s safety blanket in critical situations.

With all this context, it feels like Williams was a product of his environment. However, with all the film we’ve witnessed he felt like someone who could produce on his own. I can confidently say his projection was a reserve X receiver in a vertical passing scheme that targets the intermediate and deep areas of the field who’s in need of good quarterback play due to his marginal catch radius and adjustment ability. But he can help a team win because of his good competitive toughness and solid yards after the catch.

How did a receiver like this become an integral part of one of the best passing offenses in the 2010s? Finding the answer to this question was what I sought when I put pen to paper; I think there is only one answer to this question and I think you know it?

It’s Jason Garrett!

We know when Garrett was the head coach in Dallas he was seen as the brilliant offensive mind before his gameday installs became very monotonous and more about establishing a mentality versus finding the most optimal way to win a game. As we reflected upon Garrett’s departure from Dallas, we realized pretty quickly how bad he was at two aspects of coaching: game management and talent management. (He won SO many games with such poor fundamental coaching traits)

Garrett was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2008. Here were all the pass catchers he had some part in drafting while in Dallas: (I included tight ends because they also play into target share)


Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M


John Phillips, TE, Virginia

Manuel Johnson, WR, Oklahoma


Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State


Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina


Danny Coale, WR, Virginia Tech

James Hanna, TE, Oklahoma


Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State

Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor


Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh


Geoff Swaim, TE, Texas


Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina

Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State


Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State

Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

Cedric Wilson Jr, WR, Boise State

Sorry for the incredibly brief list. Before the 2017 season, the team had hit on two pass catchers, Dez Bryant and Williams himself. Bennett was successful elsewhere, Harris was seen as a lethal return threat more than a receiver, and James Hanna had to retire due to bad knees. Geoff Swaim had a single good season before he found himself in Jacksonville. (As a pass catcher, not as a run blocker)

Even after the 2017 season, Ryan Switzer was traded after a season he returned a punt for a touchdown. Cedric Wilson Jr actually got released in the last round of cuts before the team activated him up from the practice squad in the same season; he was also most productive after Garrett left. Need I mention Noah Brown who was incredibly misused under Garrett. Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz turned into very valuable pieces for this team but both were initially overshadowed by players incredibly overrated by Garrett. For Gallup, it was Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson; for Schultz, it was 37-year-old Jason Witten.

Several productive Cowboys receivers under Garrett were either undrafted free agents or cheap free-agent signings: Miles Austin, Cole Beasley, and Laurent Robinson. Terrance Williams might have actually broken a trend by being a solid receiver as a third-round pick. The point being, Jason Garrett got quite lucky with the offensive players he had in Dallas. They also predominantly played with Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, two good quarterbacks.

If there’s anything to take away from rambling today, it’s this: Terrance Williams was a product of his environment surrounded by good pass catchers and a great quarterback. Williams wasn’t a proper fit for the position he played and when thrust into greater volume, he was noticeably less efficient. The efficiency helped him score a second contract with the team but the team then proceeded to start targeting him in areas of the field where he wasn’t as successful. The reason he stayed on the team so long was because his coach felt he was the “right kind of guy” for the locker room.

More from Sports Dallas Fort-Worth

Can’t say I necessarily disagree with that sentiment?

At that point, I can’t understand the rationale behind wanting to re-sign with the team that was trending in the wrong direction.

In a sense, Williams’ sharp decline was partially self-inflicted as he could have gone to another team and played in an offense that catered to his strengths so his skill set was being maximized by his coaching staff.

When he came back to the team in 2018 and was essentially the best receiver in the room, he couldn’t handle it. It was after a season in which Dak Prescott had significantly regressed and change was imminent as receivers with good catch radius were necessary.

But considering his entire football career up to that point had been within two hours of the greater Dallas Fort-Worth area, taking a hometown discount might’ve actually meant something to Williams, which is nice to see as a fan.

dark. Next. Connor Williams may be too good?

I hope you learned something today reading this because I certainly did watching old games. I grew to respect Williams’s skill set, but also realized pretty quickly the Cowboys could’ve done a lot better at the receiver position if they understood how to correctly evaluate and utilize the skill sets on the depth chart. That’s all for this retrospective, on to the next one…