Connor Williams has been the Dallas Cowboys’ starting left guard for most of the last two seasons. While we usually expect a lot of players heading into the third year, especially a former 2nd-Round draft pick, many appear ready to kick Williams to the curb for other options. Does Connor deserve more respect heading into 2020?
Williams was the 50th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. While he played left tackle at the University of Texas, Connor was immediately converted to guard upon joining the Cowboys.
Dallas put their faith in the rookie and named him the starting left guard for Week One. The previous year’s starter, veteran Jonathan Cooper, had left in free agency. With La’el Collins fully converted to right tackle at that point, the door was wide open for Williams to walk into the role.
Connor had a personal setback that year with a minor knee injury in early November. Backup Xavier Su’a-Filo came in and was good enough that Dallas didn’t give the starting job back to Williams when he was healthy. The Cowboys were also trying to preserve chemistry as they made their late-season push for the playoffs.
It was only when Zack Martin also had to miss a few games in December that Connor got back into starting action. Williams did enough at that point, along with some decline in Xavier’s play, that Dallas restored him to starting left guard for the playoffs.
Connor resumed that job last season and played 11 games before suffering a season-ending ACL tear during the Thanksgiving game. He was showing solid improvement prior to the injury; Pro Football Focus had him ranked 38th overall among all guards (left and right) when he went out.
That’s pretty good with 64 starting jobs around the league.
A former 2nd-Round pick who showed improvement in Year 2 and has been battling injuries; we’d usually be rooting for a player like this in his third season. But it seems like many are ready to hand Connor Williams’ job off to someone else in 2020.
It’s almost like the brief handoff to Su’a-Filo in 2018 set a bad tone for Williams going forward; a guy who lost his job once can more easily lose it again.
We saw that last year when Penn State’s Connor McGovern was drafted in the 3rd Round. If it hadn’t been for a pectoral injury during the camp and preseason process, McGovern was reportedly in a position to take Williams’ starting job.
McGovern is now healed and ready to compete in 2020. He’s one of a few different players in the mix for the interior line positions; Joe Looney, Cam Erving, Tyler Biadasz, and Adam Redmond.
While replacing Travis Frederick is the top reason for all of these options, there’s potential fallout which could impact Connor Williams as well. Depending on who gets the job at center, could someone else still be seen as a new starter at left guard?
For example, let’s say Looney or Biadasz is our new center in 2020. That leaves McGovern and Erving, a former 1st-Round pick himself, looking for a spot to play. Will the Cowboys allow them to get enough reps at guard in July and August that they could win the job by September?
It’s been suggested that Williams, as a collegiate offensive tackle, might work as the swing tackle in 2020. While Cam Erving appears to have been signed for that role, it’s certainly a way for Dallas to still get something out of Williams in 2020 if someone new emerges as a superior starting guard.
All that said, Connor Williams is still the front-runner for the left guard job this year. Not only is he entering that traditionally pivotal third season but he’s had the additional setbacks with injuries and making the transition from college tackle to NFL guard. There’s good reason for optimism about his continued growth.
This isn’t a time to hope for greener grass with a new player. If anything, the best bet is to trust in our scouts’ evaluation of Williams and that the developing guard, still just 23 years old, will blossom in 2020.