Why Terrance Williams is Primed for a Breakout Campaign in 2014

Williams had an impressive rookie season, but his second year is shaping up to be even better.

Each and every summer as the fantasy football offseason kicks into high gear, you’ll see numerous wide receivers entering their third season being advertised potential breakouts. This year's popular third-season breakout bet has been Michael Floyd, who's been getting a ton of love from fantasy sites across the web. While I myself am a big fan of Floyd’s potential, it’s important to not forget about the second-year wide receivers, who tend to break through just as often, but at a better cost.

Entering his second season, Terrance Williams is one of my favorite fantasy targets. His 2013 rookie season production wasn’t all that far off from Floyd’s second-season stats, too, considering he had less than three quarters of the targets Floyd saw. Williams holds the second receiver job in Dallas without much of any competition in sight, and he currently only costs you a ninth-round pick on average in 10-team leagues.

Let's break down Williams’ rookie season in numberFire fashion, using our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures how many points a player is adding to his team's expected point total through his performances (see more on NEP in our glossary).

An Impressive Rookie Season

Williams’ 2013 stats weren't eye-popping, but for a rookie third-round pick who entered the season third on his team’s depth chart, his performance definitely gives reason for optimism. He saw 74 targets last year, and when compared to the 28 total receivers who had between 65 and 85 targets a season ago, he has some pretty solid rankings.

Reception NEPTarget NEPReception NEP per Target

His eighth-place finish among the 28 qualified receivers in Reception NEP is certainly pretty good in its own right, but it gets even more impressive when you take a few things into account. First, five of the seven receivers ahead of him saw more targets than Williams, and Reception NEP is a cumulative metric that looks at the number of points added on catches only.

Second, and more importantly, there were quite a few flukey, touchdown-dependent Reception NEP numbers among the seven players above him. Namely, Marvin Jones, Eddie Royal, and Jerricho Cotchery, all players who had more than 56.08 Reception NEP, saw pretty unsustainable touchdown to target numbers. Each caught one touchdown for roughly every eight targets they received, and no one expects them to repeat the sort of touchdown numbers they posted last season.

Really, without some flukiness from a few receivers, William’s Reception NEP numbers would have stacked up even better than they already do.

His Target NEP and Reception NEP per target numbers rank just about the same as his Reception NEP numbers, too. Naturally his Target NEP (24.35) was lower than his Reception NEP as it looks at how he performs on all targets (not just catches), but it’s important to see that he managed to perform well compared to the other receivers in his target range.

There can obviously be communication issues and mistakes made by a rookie receiver due to the steep learning curve at the NFL level, which in Williams’ case was a pretty big concern given his simplified route-tree at Baylor. But overall, good things happened when the ball went his way. By that same token, it’s great to see that he was relatively efficient in 2013. His Reception NEP per target was a respectable 0.76. It’s a number that will likely fall a bit as his volume increases in 2014, but seeing more targets will improve his fantasy numbers.

Miles on the Move

There’s been two notable developments in Dallas this offseason that will have a strong effect on Williams’ 2014 season. The first is the Cowboys letting oft-injured Miles Austin leave for Cleveland. The sometimes good, sometimes great, always headache-inducing Austin has been a relatively disappointing fantasy commodity since his big 2009 season. This season will be the first year in Austin’s seven-year career that he plays for a team other than the Cowboys, and the move opens up the number two receiving job in Dallas for Williams. Austin missed a lot of action in 2013, so it’s worthwhile to break down Williams’ production in games with and without Austin.

Technically, Austin played 11 games for the Cowboys last season. I say “technically” because in two of those games, Austin recorded zero catches, and he had just one catch in three others. That's without also mentioning the four games that Austin only had two catches. Let’s just say Austin’s 2014 performance left something to be desired, even if it was mostly due to injury.

For the purposes of the chart below, the “Without Austin” portion is Williams’ averages over the seven games Austin was either out or didn't record a catch (since he clearly was a non-factor in those games).

With Austin033.112.22
Without Austin0.7162.573.43

Clearly these numbers differ dramatically. Williams’ production week-to-week was very up and down due to him being a rookie and his big-play nature, but he should record a lot more catches in 2014 with a more consistent role in the offense and a full season under his belt. While Austin was nowhere near prolific in 2013, Williams clearly saw a significant boost in production in games that Austin was not a part of the offense. He’s a clear-cut starting receiver for the Cowboys with Austin completely out of the picture, and the bump in the depth chart will certainly go a long way in helping Williams build upon his rookie season.

Let Me See Your Linehan(d)s in the Air!

Former Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was brought to Dallas this offseason to hold the same position. Linehan calling plays means the Cowboys’ offense will turn into an aerial attack in 2014. While it’s one thing to say Linehan is a pass-happy coach, it’s another to show just how much he loves letting his quarterback air it out.

Over his five-year reign as offensive coordinator in Detroit, the Lions averaged just over 651 pass attempts per season. To give some perspective, Tony Romo has never once thrown more than 648 passes in a season, and he attempted only 535 throws in 15 starts last year. What’s more, he let Matthew Stafford throw a mind-boggling 727 passes in 2012, showing his play-calling is anything but gun-shy.

Detroit’s pass-to-run ratio was just the 14th-highest in the league last season thanks to the presence of both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the Lions’ rushing attack, but they were first in 2012. Look for Dallas’ offense to be somewhere in between that in 2014, as they have all the pieces in place to become an aerial powerhouse. When they do, Williams stands to benefit as one of the key players in their passing attack. What he stands to lose in efficiency, he’ll gain back in fantasy points, a trade I think all fantasy players will be satisfied with.

Wonderful Williams

While none of this is to suggest Williams is ready to join the club of elite NFL receivers, his rookie season certainly seems a bit too under-discussed considering just how good he was. It’s hard not to get excited about his potential moving forward after the way he performed as a relatively raw rookie. He’s had a year-long adjustment period, and is now a key cog in what should be one of the most trigger-happy passing attacks in the NFL in 2014. A player of Williams’ talent being taken as low as he is will make him a low-risk selection with an extremely high reward potentially on the horizon in fantasy football. His lack of consistency aside, Williams is one you want in 2014.