TAMPA, Fla. — One Miami Dolphins fan couldn’t stop talking about his new favorite player while watching joint practices in Tampa Wednesday. It wasn’t a quarterback such as Josh Rosen or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or even cornerback Xavien Howard or possibly running back Kenyan Drake. It was undrafted rookie Preston Williams, a 6-foot-5, 218-pound receiver who has excited the Dolphins’ fan base, coaches and players this summer.
“Put him up there in the ring of honor with Paul Warfield (Dolphins wide receiver, 1970-74) right now. Ain’t no need to wait,” the fan wearing an aqua Dolphins shirt yelled out as Williams beat Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a catch during a one-on-one drill.
Outside of Rosen, Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills, no Dolphins player has been talked about more than the rookie wideout. Even Howard, who is the Dolphins’ best player, has noticed.
“That guy can be special,” Howard said. “There’s so much room for improvement with him, but he’s going to be a No. 1 receiver one day.
“I’ve been playing against receivers all of my life, so I know what it takes.”
Howard does not give compliments often, so his words hold weight.
Williams, 22, has consistently flashed on the field. He had a game-high four catches for 97 yards and drew multiple defensive pass interference calls in the Dolphins’ 34-27 preseason win against the Atlanta Falcons.
Williams is already making highlight plays. He’s the ultimate jump-ball receiver, but he went viral during the Dolphins-Buccaneers joint practices this week after twice juking a stumbling Tampa Bay cornerback out of his shoes in one-on-ones.
The question for Williams has quickly transitioned from will he make the team (yes, he’s a lock) to will he start or get significant playing time from Week 1 (that is yet to be seen). But Howard’s words of elite receiver potential grow with every catch Williams makes.
“This is a talented young receiver,” coach Brian Flores said. “To get to a No. 1 status is, he’s got a long way to go, but does he have that potential? I would say he does and it’s up to him to do the things he has to do to reach that potential. We’ll help him, though.”
Did we just become best friends?
Outsiders were introduced to the Josh Rosen-Williams connection last Thursday night. Late in the second quarter, Rosen delivered a nice ball to Williams — who made a diving, one-handed (left-handed!) grab, beating 6-foot-2 Falcons cornerback Jordan Miller for a 36-yard reception. The crowd erupted and video of the catch went viral.
“If you make plays, people notice,” Williams said.
This isn’t a case of first-time interactions turning into an instant bond. Rosen and Williams played together at The Opening 7-on-7 football camp in Oregon in 2014. Williams often smiles when thinking about all the touchdowns he’s caught from Rosen in the past.
The QB-WR pair are a great match. Rosen is a gunslinger at heart who plays the game with trust and rhythm. Williams is a big-body, big-play threat who loves catching 50/50 balls.
“Preston will go get the ball, so you’ve got to give him those opportunities,” Rosen said. “He’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s got a great attitude. He works really hard, and I think he’s got a really high ceiling. It’s just about how hard he works, and I’m right there in the boat with him.
Williams added: “We’re both young, so we’re learning together. Me and Josh still got a lot of growing to do. We’ll keep working every day, during practice and after practice.”
Work ethic is one area where Williams has impressed the Dolphins. He’s regularly one of the last players off the field getting extra work on the Jugs machine. He also spent the break between spring workouts getting pointers from former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall and working out with Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
— Jason Jenkins (@jasonljenkins) August 10, 2019
Take a gander at Williams’ social media accounts and you’ll realize he’s obsessed with unicorns. Why? He says he sees himself in the mythical creature. His game might be catching others by surprise, but that’s just because they don’t see it often, he says.
“Unique. Unicorns are unique horses. You haven’t seen a unicorn before,” Williams said. “People say I run like a horse. I agreed, but I run like a unique horse, though. I’m unnoticeably fast. I got good game sleep. I’m unique.”
The Dolphins have a suddenly deep receiver crew with Stills, DeVante Parker (who says he sees a lot of himself in Williams), Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Williams, Isaiah Ford, Brice Butler and Allen Hurns.
How did Williams land in Miami? Williams was arrested in 2017 because of a domestic dispute with a woman who identified as Williams’ girlfriend at the time. Williams pled guilty to a harassment charge in 2018. He wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine because of the 2017 arrest. He was considered by some as a potential first-round player out of Colorado State, but off-the-field issues along with a bad pro day performance led him to go undrafted.
Dolphins assistant general manager Marvin Allen, co-director of player personnel Adam Engroff and regional scout Lenny McGill kept track of Williams throughout the draft. The Dolphins had high evaluations of Williams throughout the process and were active in pursuing him as it became clear he might go undrafted.
“He’s worked extremely hard really since he got here, post-draft. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s tough, and he’s really worked every day to get better,” Flores said. “We tell him to block in the run game, he blocks in the run game, play more downhill on your end cuts, he does that.”
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) August 14, 2019
The next question will be how the Dolphins get Williams on the field. His fellow receivers know it’s only a matter of time before he’s catching touchdowns with the starting offense. The Dolphins even gave him a shot at punt returner in practice this week.
Williams might benefit if Wilson and Grant are eased into regular-season action as they recover from injuries. But eventually there will be a lot of receivers in the kitchen ready to eat. That’s a problem the Dolphins hope to have in 2019 and beyond.
“He’s a first-round talent,” Stills said of Williams. “He’s going to be somebody to deal with in this league for a long time.”