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Miami Dolphins: Preston Williams looks to rise after his fall from grace (Opinion)

Miami Dolphins
Photo Credit: The Coloradoan

At Hard Rock Stadium on August 8, 2019, Miami Dolphins undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Preston Williams became an overnight sensation.

But, this almost never happened. Williams shouldn’t have been a member of the Dolphins. He shouldn’t have been bursting onto the scene playing with the backups in the first preseason game. Instead, he should’ve been entering the season as a potential WR1 on a team that was in need of a wide receiver.

But there he was, hauling in passes from quarterback Josh Rosen. And from that, he became an instant fan favorite.

Timing is Everything

Timing in life can be everything. Imagine an important moment or a significant day in your life. Then imagine how different your life could be if the timing was skewed by as little as a split-second. As stated in Any Given Sunday, “One-half second too slow, too fast, and you don’t quite catch it.”

Better late than never.

Williams’ phone did not ring during April’s NFL Draft. He never had a chance to answer that call. He didn’t hear his name called. But on Thursday night, he answered the call he has been waiting for his entire life.

Timing is everything. At the start of one of the most polarizing seasons in Miami Dolphins’ history, the time for Preston Williams is right now. He no longer holds the title of what his agent states is “the best-kept secret in the NFL.” That’s because the secret is out.

After a conversation with the rookie’s agent, Mike Swenson, it is clear that all 32 teams made a drastic mistake in the draft’s most illogical pass. Ironically, that league-wide pass could be one franchise’s greatest catch in more than a decade.

A sensational performance in Preston Williams’ NFL debut

Against the Atlanta Falcons, Williams made four highlight-reel receptions totaling 97 yards in Miami’s 34-27 victory just three nights ago. There was a diving, full extension reception on third and long. A pristine one-handed, lunging catch that may have made Odell Beckham Jr. envious. And how about that sideline grab that had more toe-drag-swag than a young Chad Ochocinco? That particular catch was stunning.

Incomplete was the initial call, but the replay showed a picturesque clinic on receiving. Catch, control, feet in, finisher – the finisher being that subtle slide of the ball to secure it in one arm, and the other arm breaking his fall out of bounds, closing the play.

Smooth as silk. Call reversed.

The final catch was the embodiment of what Miami has lacked for years. A big-bodied, physically imposing target in the red-zone. Williams also drew an end-zone pass interference call leading to a goal-line score seconds later.

That last reception was reminiscent of Brandon Marshall, the former Dolphins wideout who has had his share of off-field issues and on-field triumphs. Perhaps then, it isn’t a coincidence Marshall took Williams under his wing this summer and hit the gym with the rookie. They are near physical carbon-copies.

And besides Marshall, Miami’s new veteran quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has also taken on a mentorship role with Williams. But it was another quarterback who Williams had found admiration for, dating all the way back to his high school days.

Preston Williams. Josh Rosen. Football Camp. 

To see how Williams got to this point, we need to go back several years to the time before he was a 5-star prep recruit from Georgia. Williams attended numerous camps with other blue-chip high school prospects looking to stand out in front of NCAA scouts. A certain young quarterback enjoyed a few pitch-and-catch sessions with the receiver at a particular camp. The chemistry was immediately evident between the two teenagers.

That quarterback, who found instant compatibility with Williams, was none other than Fitzpatrick’s own competition and fellow Miami signal-caller, Josh Rosen. That chemistry returned on Thursday, and there was nothing broken or bad about it.

There was a palpable faith and trust from Rosen on that third down prayer which Williams answered. Rosen did his best Eli Manning impersonation from Super Bowl 42. Rosen, refusing to be sacked, heaved a lob to the 6’4’’ 210+ pound athletic specimen. Despite a defensive hold committed by Atlanta on Williams, he still hauled in the catch.

First down. And that was just the beginning of his night.

Preston Williams’ life is changed…forever

Following those impressive high school camps and a season as a Tennessee Volunteer, Williams transferred to Colorado State University to play for head coach Mike Bobo.

While sitting out his transfer year as per normal NCAA policy, September 23, 2017, was the date his path changed course.  Without rehashing the specific incident in what became a plea-bargained, thrown-out case in the court of the law, Williams’ trial in the court of public opinion, as well as inside NFL war-rooms, was just getting started. The latter two being far more unforgiving than the former.

The narrative on paper for NFL general managers and scouts was that of an “off-field issue.” To make matters worse, the timing of other sins around the league is the main blame for the cold-feet of league GMs in Williams’ case.

A perfect storm, if you will.

It is one thing to read a person’s words, yet another thing entirely to hear them. As Swenson said numerous times regarding Williams’ quality of character, the same words were repeated.

Humble. Grateful. Focused.

Left out in the cold at the NFL Combine

These attributes were reinforced repeatedly when Swenson touched on Williams not being invited to the NFL Combine. As Williams’ agent continued, very obviously with continued passion and conviction in defense of his client, Swenson detailed the hoops he had to jump through simply to get a chance at a late invite to the job interview of all job interviews.

The NFL Combine is what a 5-star recruit dreams of daily while walking around campus. And Williams thought he might have a chance. Swenson claimed that numerous teams had Williams rated as high as the top WR on their board. However, there was that thing on paper.

The character and drive of Williams to “stay focused” during this process is extremely admirable. Did you know that Williams and Swenson traveled to Indianapolis a few days prior to the NFL Combine as there were efforts to get back that chance that he deserved to showcase his talents?

Preston Williams finds his way to Miami

The famous “chip-on-the-shoulder” was placed on Williams after the NFL Draft selection process concluded without getting the opportunity to answer a call from a team about to select him.

Back in Miami, the rebuild of a once-dominant franchise was already in full swing. Newly hired front-office executive, Reggie McKenzie, was instrumental in Williams’ “selecting” the Dolphins as his destination to “try out” for his dream. His goal. His destiny.

McKenzie has connections all over football, both professional and collegiate. Those connections, mixed with former NFL WR and ex-CSU coach Alvis Whitted’s endorsement, led to Miami calling Swenson.

Preston Williams has his eyes focused in the right direction

When Williams made that one-handed catch on Thursday night, what did he do after? He gave the ball back to the official and went back to the huddle. No dancing. No bursting out of his pads to celebrate. He did his job, most noticeably in the eyes of the right person, Miami’s first-year head coach, Brian Flores.

“I think he’s worked extremely hard really since he got here,” Flores told the Miami media following the game. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s tough, and he’s really worked every day to get better. We tell him to block in the run game, and he blocks in the run game; play more downhill on your end cuts, he does that. He works hard after practice; he works hard in meetings.”

If that doesn’t do it for you, how about a direct comparison by a guy who knows a few things about receptions in Miami? 415 of them to be exact. Dolphins legend and fourth-leading receiver in franchise history, O.J. McDuffie, had a vision of a former teammate when he and I discussed Williams’ performance – Oronde Gadsden.

“OG was such an exceptional athlete. Every ball was his. I’m excited about Preston.” McDuffie added with enthusiasm. “Dude is hungry, too. He shows up every day in camp. Not just flashes.”

Gadsden was a 6’2’’ fan favorite who played in Miami from 1998-2003. He was another undrafted gem the Dolphins wisely took a flier on. Gadsden accumulated 227 receptions in his Miami career, many being highlight-reel one-handed jaw-droppers.

Take these words seriously, as McDuffie is still a prominent voice in Miami Dolphins football currently and historically, as he co-hosts the fan-favorite podcast, “The Fish Tank.”

McDuffie, as well as Flores, praise the work ethic and professionalism of Williams.

The crusade against domestic violence

The issue of domestic violence is a crusade that must be fought. However, there are those who have been sacrificial lambs, both deservingly so in some cases, and horribly unjustly in Williams’ case.

If other situations with current and former players did not hit mainstream media coverage when they did, I am convinced Williams would have gotten a phone call on Friday night of the NFL Draft.

Nobody can change the past, and all people can do in life is live and learn. Perhaps the greatest learning experience Williams has ever been a part of has been the past two years of his own life – the journey he has embarked on since September 23, 2017.

That journey has shifted course since Thursday night.

The question, “will Williams make the team?” is gone. The only question now is, “how high up the depth chart will he go?”

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who was newly minted as the league’s highest-paid at the position, praises the rookie as a potential number one WR.

“[Preston Williams] is [going to] be special,” said Howard a few days prior to the Atlanta game. “He’s still learning, just a rookie with room for improvement. He’s [going to] be a number one receiver one day.”

Take that to the bank, a place Howard is certainly familiar with recently, and deservingly so. Howard’s foresight directly correlates with Swenson’s, as he told me Williams is, “out to prove himself.”

The chip on those shoulder-pads comes with goals – on the field, to be the best player he can be; and off-field, to continue in Miami’s league-leading tradition of top-tier community service initiatives.

He is ready to do all the “little things,” as Swenson put it, to become “great.”

A second chance for Preston Williams

Note: This paragraph has been updated for more clarity since being published

Let’s take a quick look back – Williams had been arrested in September 2017 and charged with misdemeanor tampering and harassment. This was following an incident where he was accused of shoving and restraining a woman (police report states it was his girlfriend) during a domestic dispute. Williams pleaded guilty to a harassment charge in March 2018 but all other charges against him were dropped.

The “optics” of many situations in these times drastically need to change. However, in a world that embraces “second chances” for certain people and professions, the narrative must be amended.

Business people, lawmakers, other athletes, and many others are granted second chances for charges much more extreme than a misdemeanor. Now, Williams will get his chance to be part of the NFL’s latest redemption story.

Yet, the story of redemption is not something solely on Williams. It is also on us. Too many writers, too many fans, too many front-office executives see “off-field issue” on a scouting report and then turn the page. Let’s stop this, and let’s do a bit more due diligence on young people with the character and work ethic that match their talent.

The stigma of certain stereotypes, as ridiculous as a hairstyle and its dye to devalue a prospect, is sickening to me. Yes, that actually happened to Williams.

Taking into account everything I was enlightened on, and everything the football world witnessed on Thursday night, Williams is not the NFL’s best keep secret anymore. He just may be the league’s next great story, and chapter one is just getting penned.

The “optics” of the path of this rookie have been eye-opening for many reasons, and while hindsight is always 20/20, foresight has always been what can help or hinder an NFL franchise over the course of a decade or even further.

It seems that the talent and beauty of Williams’ potential has always been seen in the eye of its initial beholder. Miami General Manager Chris Grier took a chance, and that chance is the very beginning of a seemingly long-term and fruitful relationship.

I was once told a popular cliché that I try to wake up to daily, and that is, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

There isn’t a person out there who can foresee the future. All we can do is put ourselves in the best position to succeed through work, effort, and sacrifice, and hope the timing is right to create our own positive perfect storm.

There could be one brewing – that of a new coach, a new vision, and a new rising-star coming together at the perfect time.

Although Williams’ stock fell during the draft process, Miami granted him his second chance, and this country’s singular greatest word and power…

Opportunity.

We are now all witnessing his rise, and there is just one person on the planet who knows when this wave will crest. That person is Preston Williams, wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins.

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