ESPN and Football Outsiders published their annual list of young players who could break out during the 2020 NFL season. The point of the list is not to highlight the first-round picks everyone is already watching, but instead, as Rivers McCown writes, “this is a list of players who have a strong chance to make an impact in the NFL despite their lack of draft stock and the fact that they weren’t immediate NFL starters.” The basic rules for the list are the player was drafted in the third round or later, or was undrafted; entered the NFL between 2017 and 2019; has played fewer than 500 snaps (or 300 for running backs); has not signed a contract extension; and is 26 or younger in 2020.
One Miami Dolphins player immediately comes to mind when fans consider young players on the verge of a breakout, and, unfortunately, he meets the 500-or-fewer snaps limit (404 played snaps). McCown agrees with the breakout potential. Not only is wide receiver Peston Williams included on the list, you do not have to go far down the list to find his name.
Undrafted in 2019, Williams joined the Dolphins and almost immediately made coaches and fans take notice. The 6-foot-5, 218 pound wide out used his size to out-muscle defenders in training camp, then in the preseason, and then continued it into the season. In eight games, Williams had 32 receptions for 428 yards with three touchdowns. He started seven times and he was positioned to be Miami’s leading receiver - potentially ending the season ahead of DeVante Parker’s 72 receptions for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns - before the Tennessee/Colorado State product tore his ACL and missed the second-half of the season.
If he is healthy and ready to return at 100 percent this year, Williams should be ready to pair with Parker in a dynamic 1-2 punch in the passing game.
As for McCown’s list, he starts it with Minnesota Vikings edge rusher Ifeadi Odenigbo, then has Denver Broncos defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones in the second position. They are followed by Williams, the third-listed player and only offensive played listed in the top five of the list. McCown wrote of Williams:
It had just turned November, the Dolphins were tanking for Tua (turns out they didn’t need to), and Williams was somehow the best receiver on the roster. Williams, who went undrafted out of Colorado State mostly because of an arrest on a charge of domestic violence, led the Dolphins to an upset win over the Jets in which he caught five balls for 72 yards and two touchdowns. He also tore his ACL, maintaining his ability to remain under the snap count for this list.
After Williams left, DeVante Parker’s production exploded. Parker had zero games with over 75 receiving yards in the first nine. After Williams left, Parker reached that total in five of the last seven, earning a huge contract extension. Between Parker’s blowup and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, Williams’ ability to repeat his early-season play is a bit more in question than some players on this list. Still, the Dolphins didn’t take a receiver in one of the deepest drafts at the position in some time, and Williams should recover from his injury in time for the 2020 season.
A tall, fast jump-ball winner, Williams caught just 53% of his targets last year — but in an offense that did not truly hit its stride until after he left. Whether it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa at quarterback, Williams is the best bet among the receivers on this list to hit in a volume role. That’s why he’s parked right here.
Will we see Williams return to form this season? How will Williams complement Parker - as well as tight end Mike Gesicki who was breaking out at the end of the 2019 season as well? Will presumed starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick be able to take advantage of the multiple threats across the offense? Could Miami’s passing game round into form just in time for rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to take the helm and allow him to find immediate success in the league?
Miami’s roster as a whole is a young one that is set to grow together. A player like Williams could speed up that development.