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Sham: Underappreciated Terrance Williams Still Reliable Second Receiver
It’s one of the mysteries of team sports fandom. Some players seem never to be appreciated, as ought be their due.
Some guys, you just don’t like. Don’t like their attitude. Don’t like their public personality. They seem aloof. You don’t like where they came from. Hey, we’ve all been there.
Not talking about them.
The oddity is the good, solid, underappreciated player who may not be a superstar but was never supposed to be. Someone who does a thousand little things only his teammates and coaches notice. This player is frequently, it seems from here, disliked for who he isn’t, not for who he is. This seems patently unfair.
Your honors, the defense presents as evidence Exhibit A: Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams.
This argument is not made today just because Williams had nine passes thrown his way and caught them all against Kansas City, a personal best. Not just because his 141 receiving yards, most of it after the catch, may have been a big difference in the Cowboys winning the game.
The fact is Terrance Williams does that kind of thing, if not quite in that volume, more often than you know. Or want to know, because for some reason most of you seem to dismiss or ignore Terrance Williams. This might be considered shortsighted of you.
Let’s start with what he isn’t. Terrance Williams is not a superstar. He’s not a speed burner who in the vernacular takes the top off a defense. In his now four-and-a-half year pro career, he’s had a reputation as something of a body catcher. That is, one who prefers to trap the ball against his body instead of snatching it with his hands. This has, at times, been true.
He also has (it says here unfairly) developed a reputation for making what some fans consider mental mistakes. Most will offer as an example his failure to get out of bounds on a play at the end of a season-opening loss to the Giants last year. And it’s true, he did that.
Never mind that it’s also true that staying in bounds would have set up about a 63-yard field goal attempt, or that two other receivers had dropped passes in the red zone or end zone in the first and second quarters of that game. That was the last thing we saw, so we’ll blame it all on “T-Will.”
The Cowboys may have lost a game to Green Bay this year because late in a tight game, a ball bounced off his hands, was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by the Packers. That happened. So we’ll establish that Terrance Williams is not perfect, not a superstar, probably not a Pro Bowl receiver.
Terrance Williams was a third-round pick and has developed into a reliable second receiver. He never misses a game. He plays hurt and never complains. He rarely misses a practice. And the numbers say he’s as reliable a wide receiver as the Cowboys have. He throws no tantrums and doesn’t sulk. He blocks. He runs good routes and does what he’s asked to do.
Have a look at what Cowboys’ No. 2 wide receivers have done in the team’s best years:
In 1975, a Super Bowl year. Drew Pearson led the team with 46 catches. (A different era. Don’t be distracted.) Next came a tight end and two running backs and then Golden Richards, with 21. Pearson had eight of the team’s 19 touchdown receptions. The 1977 season, Super Bowl championship. Pearson had 48. Then two running backs and a tight end and Richards with 18.
Okay, Methuselah. Get us to the common era. In 1992, a Super Bowl win. Michael Irvin, 78 catches to lead the team. Then a tight end and a running back before Alvin Harper’s 35. How about 1993? Irvin 88, two running backs and a tight end and Harper with 36.
Or 2007: Jason Witten 96 (the rules have changed, folks), Terrell Owens 81, Patrick Crayton, the second wide receiver, 50.
2009: Witten 94, Miles Austin 81, Roy Williams, the second wide receiver, 38.
2014: Dez Bryant 88, then a tight end, running back, then Williams and Cole Beasley, 37 each. Last year, an anomaly, Beasley had 75, then Witten, then Bryant with 50 and Williams 44. Those are the numbers.
The facts simply say that Terrance Williams statistically measures up with every No. 2 receiver the Cowboys have ever had on their best teams. But wait, there’s more.
Your Humble Correspondent likes statistics as much as the next baseball fan … if they’re relevant. In our fantasy football-addled world, relevance has become a luxury, so we create new categories, like targets. What exactly is a target? Is a ball thrown five feet over a receiver’s head a target? One drilled at his feet? Does a target without a catch mean a drop, or a should’ve been caught? Yes, yes, no and no. But suddenly it’s a thing. So let’s look at targets.
The NFL ranks targets by gross number. There are no grades for whether a target is in the flat, a screen or a 25-yard out. A target is a target. For that reason, tight ends tend to have the highest percentage of catches per target. The Cowboys’ leaders this year, for instance, are Jason Witten, who has caught 72 percent of his targets, and Ezekiel Elliott at 73. Atlanta’s leaders are running back Devonta Freeman at 78.9 percent and tight end Austin Hooper at 75. Get the picture?
This week, the league’s leading wide receiver target percentage leader is Golden Tate at 78 percent. Then Larry Fitzgerald, and Doug Baldwin at 69 percent and Tyreek Hill at 67. So to be clear, this week, halfway through the season, 78 percent is the best target receiving percentage among wide receivers in the NFL. On the Cowboys, Dez Bryant is at 50 percent. Cole Beasley is at 58.
Terrance Williams this week is at 67.7 percent. The numbers, if you must have them, say he is one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL.
Against the Chiefs, Williams had 105 receiving yards in the first half and didn’t get a sniff in the third quarter. Angry? Demanding? Sullen? Sulking? No. Here’s what Williams thought about that: “It comes down to coaches making calls and players making plays. Certain times of the game, coach felt it was time to get Zeke going. That means it’s time to put on my hard hat and try to block for Zeke the best I can.”
That’s pretty much Terrance William’s attitude all the time. Not a superstar? He was never supposed to be. The best Terrance Williams he can be? Every day, all day. Please, can we have some more problems like that?