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For Terry McLaurin, preparation is fuel for production

Terry McLaurin makes a catch during the Washington Football Team's practice on Oct. 6, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Terry McLaurin makes a catch during the Washington Football Team's practice on Oct. 6, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Terry McLaurin has not received the same notoriety as some of the other receivers who are household names in the NFL, but head coach Ron Rivera isn't bothered by the lack of attention for his No. 1 receiver. Actually, he prefers it that way.

"I hope that's how people approach him," Rivera said when asked if McLaurin is underrated. "Because as far as I'm concerned, he's a starting wide receiver in this league. He's the kind of guy that you can count on to do the things that need to be done and done the right way."

McLaurin might not have the outside reputation as one of the league's top wideouts, but he sure has been playing like one. He's seventh in receiving yards (354),  tied for 13th in receptions (25) and tied for ninth with three touchdowns. The numbers are a result of all the effort McLaurin puts into his preparation, and he's setting the tone for his teammates.

"He's a great example for our young receivers," Rivera said.

Taylor Heinicke knew McLaurin was good before joining Washington. He saw the receiver winning one-on-one matchups on film and getting open against some of the better cornerbacks in the league. He saw a fast receiver who ran crisp routes and knew how to make things happen with the ball in his hands.

"You guys have seen that throughout this year," Heinicke said to the media, "and hopefully he just keeps playing at that level."

It's a safe bet that McLaurin will continue to be as effective because he puts in the work to make sure he's as prepared as possible. He spends more time on his body to recover after practice. He's always near the front in meetings with his notes out and head up. And, more importantly, he puts the lessons to good use on the practice field.

"You go out and you watch him come out and he gets warmed up and I'm watching him go through that process and everything he does like he's been in the league for six, seven, eight years," Rivera said.

Rivera saw similar traits while playing alongside Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, saying "that the way he prepped, the way he practiced, the way he played, everything matched" the same level of consistency. McLaurin has a long way to go before possibly getting a gold jacket, but there's no denying that same drive to be the best player possible has had some great results.

"He has the good habits that you want players to have and when you have good habits like that, you can build on your performance," Rivera said.

Scott Turner said it's hard to say exactly how much McLaurin has improved in Year 3, but one stat that shows how well McLaurin is performing is his production on deep throws. He was targeted seven times on deep throws against the Falcons and made four receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns, per Next Gen Stats, one of which came off Heinicke's improbable pass in the fourth quarter that pulled Washington within two points of tying the score.

"When you have a guy like Terry, you want to give him a shot to make a play. He makes plays day in, day out," Heinicke said. "So I kind of threw it up to him, let him do his thing and, fortunately, he came down with it."

And in terms of reliability, no receiver is better than McLaurin. He has the current longest streak of targets without a drop, and on 190 targets, he's hauled in 128 receptions.

"He's amazing," Dyami Brown said during training camp. "He can dictate the game very well. He teaches me as we go. It's certain techniques that you can use for different routes."

While McLaurin might not get as much attention by some outside of the league, Turner said opposing defenses don't treat him that way. They give him extra attention every time he's on the field, and despite their best efforts, he still finds ways to produce.

So, Heinicke has a message for those who aren't giving McLaurin the respect he deserves.

"For anyone saying that he's not a number one receiver, I don't know what kind of film they're watching."