It’s always difficult to project rookies because there are a lot of pure guesses involved. We need to guess how many opportunities he’ll receive with his new team. We also need to guess how he’ll produce given those opportunities, but without a performance history, that’s a challenge.
Rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams is particularly difficult to project because there are so many variables involved. He’ll be 24 years old when the season begins, so we should expect him to produce greater efficiency than your typical rookie. However, we’re not even totally sure that Williams will win the No. 3 receiver job. If he does, he’ll be playing behind Miles Austin—a player many have deemed as injury prone.
For the sake of this projection, I’m going to assume Williams will indeed become the Cowboys’ third receiver. That’s a reasonable assumption given Williams’ talent and where the Cowboys drafted him. Austin’s versatility allows the Cowboys to use Williams outside in three-receiver sets. That will be important to projecting him.
Last year, the Cowboys used three or more receivers on an incredible 56 percent of snaps. That was primarily because they were losing so often, and it won’t happen again. Williams is more likely to be on the field for 45 percent of the ‘Boys’ snaps, which would put him at around 475 plays on the year.
Romo has historically thrown about 12 percent of his passes to his No. 3 receiver, which would give Williams around 57 targets on the year. Most No. 3 receivers catch a high percentage of their targets because they usually see single coverage. I expect the Cowboys to use Williams downfield a lot, though, so his catch rate could be lower than normal—perhaps around 60 percent. That would give him 34 receptions in 2013. As a big-play threat who the Cowboys will try to get open downfield, Williams could easily average 16.0 YPR this year. If so, he’d convert his 34 receptions into 544 yards.
The primary area where Williams can really help the Cowboys as a rookie is in the red zone. On 34 receptions, I think Williams is good for at least four touchdowns, and possibly more. He’s a tall, physical player who has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. The Cowboys should use him frequently in the red zone.
Final 2013 Projection: 34 receptions, 544 yards, 4 touchdowns
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.