There's a lot to like about Terry McLaurin, whether it's his route running or contested catch rate, but all of that hinges on his approach to the game, and it might be the best thing about the young captain.
"To me, he is the ultimate pro," Rivera said. "He's one of those few guys that handled themselves the right way."
Much of McLaurin's production relies on things out of his control. He can't throw himself the ball, nor can he block to give Taylor Heinicke enough time to throw the ball. It can be frustrating to depend on so many things to go right for him to get catches.
McLaurin doesn't dwell on those factors, though. Instead, he's more focused on making sure he's taking care of business on his end, and it's the reason why he's the Washington Football Team's most reliable target.
"The way you prepare, the way you run your route, try to get open and be available for the quarterback are the things you can control along with your effort," McLaurin said.
It's a unique attitude for McLaurin to have in his position, and it did take some time for him to adopt it. Like all players, he wanted to have a good game every week and be the one to make the big plays.
But as reached the end of his college career and started playing for Washington, he started to switch his mindset to only focusing on the things he can control. And there was a key reason why: when you start worrying about other things, he said, the things that are in your control start to slip.
"You may not prepare as tough because [you think], 'Oh man, I may not be getting the ball as much,'" McLaurin said. "Or, 'I'm not gonna run this route as hard because I don't think I'm going to be in the progression. I may not get it.' And then it comes up and it's a big play in the game and you miss the opportunity."
McLaurin added that those missed opportunities may have a snowball effect. Because you're dwelling on past mistakes, it can result in more missed opportunities. If that happens, then it's on you. Being ready for a change to make a play at any moment eliminates that possibility.
"You can't control the play call," McLaurin said. "You can't control how many times the ball gets thrown to you, how the ball is, none of that. But you can control how you run your routes, how you run the ball."
The Washington Football Team prepares for its matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
That approach is the catalyst for why McLaurin has been so productive since making his NFL debut. The clearest example has been his strides taken in contested catches. It was tabbed as one of his biggest weaknesses in college; now, he's one of the best in the category. It was an area of his game that he wanted to improve upon, so he worked at it during the offseason. It's safe to say Washington has benefitted from it.
"I'll say it is good for any position the way handles it because a lot of guys do wear their emotions on their sleeves," said head coach Ron Rivera. "A lot of guys do show their desire for certain things. With Terry, I believe he's the guy that handles it the way that you'd like most guys to."
That way of playing might not get him much national attention, but it has earned praise from fellow players. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Richard Sherman called McLaurin "one of the few blue-collar wide receivers in our league." Doug Baldwin, who worked with McLaurin after the 2020 season, said McLaurin has an "intrinsic motivation to consistently refine his craft."
And where some receivers talk to their coordinators about getting the ball, McLaurin is not that type of player, either.
"Terry just comes and works, and he does his job," said Scott Turner. "He's a competitor, but he's not that. He's not that type. He wants the ball, but he's focused on doing his job."
Turner also admitted he wants to get McLaurin the ball more often for the last two games of the regular season; the wideout has had 13 targets in the last three games. That's a credit to several factors, namely that Washington has embraced its ground game in the second half of the season, but there's no denying that when Washington emphasizes getting the ball to McLaurin, it tends to work out.
That's because McLaurin aspires to be the best player possible whether he gets the ball or not.
"I just execute what's being called, week in and week out," McLaurin said.