LAS VEGAS — Jameson Williams’ head was spinning from the magnitude of the moment — the Detroit Lions had just traded up 20 spots to make his dream come true as a first-round pick in the NFL draft — and the car wash of interviews he had to do after he walked across stage to shake hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Williams was somewhere in a maze of rooms at the Caesars Forum conference center when he ran into his new Lions teammate, Aidan Hutchinson.
It took a moment for the connection to click.
“I’m telling you, I was so lost in the room and when I came out here and I seen him like, we’re shaking hands and I looked at his hat, his Lions (hat) and my Lions (hat), I’m like, ‘Oh yeah,'” Williams told the Free Press late Thursday night. “We just know we’re the ones who got to get it going, we got to be the ones who are going to turn it up, going to be the ones who bring energy. Change the culture, really.”
Hutchinson was considered by many the best prospect in this year’s draft. He had a school-record 14-sack season at Michigan football last year and fills an enormous need on a Lions defense that allowed the second most points in the NFL in 2021.
Williams, similarly, was considered the most explosive receiver in a draft stocked with pass-catching playmakers.
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He caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in his only season at Alabama after starting his college career at Ohio State, and might have been the first receiver drafted had he not suffered a torn ACL in the Tide’s national championship game loss to Georgia.
Williams said he is working on getting the range of motion back in his knee and hopes to return by training camp.
“Everything’s good,” he said. “Everything’s on track.”
The Lions appear to be on track themselves after a 3-13-1 season, and Williams and Hutchinson are a big reason why.
Hutchinson called Williams “dynamic,” said the Lions “got a hell of a ballplayer,” and celebrated the organization’s aggressive approach to roster building. Hutchinson was making his way through the same car wash of media and sponsor obligations when news broke of the trade.
“It’s good to see,” Hutchinson told the Free Press. “I think the Lions are definitely making moves to try to get back to winning, so I’m all for it.”
Williams said he had no indication he was on the Lions’ radar when they made the stunning move up. The Lions traded picks 32, 34 and 66 to the Minnesota Vikings for picks 12 and 46, a lopsided trade in the Lions’ favor according to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart.
Sitting in the green room surrounded by family, friends and his agent, Williams got a phone call from a number he did not recognize. He picked up. The call dropped quickly. Then the number called again.
“I ain’t going to lie,” Williams said. “I didn’t (have any sense the Lions would draft me). Like honestly, I didn’t talk to the Lions during this process. No visit, no nothing. Talked to them over the last couple of days, but just it was (to give them my) formal draft number. It wasn’t no (football talk) like other coaches.”
The Lions stopped a mini slide for Williams, who some mock drafts projected as a top-10 pick.
The Atlanta Falcons started an early run on receivers when they took USC’s Drake London with the eighth pick, and after the Seattle Seahawks took Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross at No. 9, Ohio State receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave went 10th and 11th to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints before the Lions jumped up to get Williams.
“I was kind of upset falling this late cause obviously I told (my agent) I thought I was the best receiver,” Williams said. “I seen three receivers go ahead of me. That’s just another motivation to me, though.”
Williams said his goal this fall is “to outdo everybody who’s on the offensive side of the ball.” He said he’s aiming for a 1,700-yard receiving season, which would make him the third straight receiver to set a rookie record for yards.
Justin Jefferson had 88 catches for 1,400 yards in 2020, and Ja’Marr Chase topped that with 81 catches for 1,455 yards last season.
“Really, that’s just my plan,” Williams said. “We’re going to turn this Detroit Lions shit up. We’re (about) to go big or go home. We’re (about) to go all the way. It’s just, we’re just getting started though, just wait.”
As for how far the Lions can go, Williams said the sky is the limit with him and Hutchinson aboard.
“I just look at it like Detroit had a great draft, a great first round,” Williams said. “Best receiver, best D-line. How could you beat that? That’s offense and defense right there. That’s all that like, that’s the best position on both sides, so Detroit had a great draft and we’re (about) to show them why it was a great draft.”