The Detroit Lions’ made an aggressive move in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, trading up from pick No. 32 to No. 12 and selecting Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. If not for an ACL injury suffered in the National Championship game, Williams likely would have been the top receiver selected in this draft cycle.
“A fearless competitor,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of Williams. “This is a guy that he shows up on offense making plays left and right. He’s running routes full speed, whether he’s involved with a play or not. But then you turn on the next clip and then all of a sudden it’s a special teams play where he is an absolute animal, whether it’s a gunner… He just loves the game and that’s what we’re looking to bring into this building, passionate guys because if you’re passionate and you have talent, we’ve got something to work with.”
Speed is a massive part of Williams’ game and general manager Brad Holmes mentioned in his post-first round press conference that per the GPS data available to the Lions, Williams was the fastest receiver in this draft class.
At Alabama, Williams was their WR-Z and was asked to stretch the field and make big plays. In 2021, Williams had a reception over 50-yards in eight games and receptions over 70-yards in six games, including a 94-yard touchdown against the University of Miami.
In the NFL, Williams projects as capable of starting at both the WR-X and WR-Z, as well as a situational contributor in the slot. He’s a potential matchup chess piece for the Lions who can make game-changing plays on his own, as well as pull coverage away from Amon-Ra St. Brown.
“Yeah, he can, primarily on the outside, but I do know this, whenever you get speed on the inside, it does create a lot of issues for defenses,” Johnson said. “So, we’re going to move him around. We’ll take advantage of the defense however we see fit that week.”
While Williams will be an exciting option for the Lions, the team—and fans—need to be patient during his recovery process. Early reports suggested he was ahead of schedule and could possibly be ready for training camp in the fall, but there’s also a real possibility this lingers into the season and it takes a few weeks before he is ready to contribute.
With St. Brown working mainly out of the slot, DJ Chark at the WR-X, and Josh Reynolds at the WR-Z, there isn’t a need to push Williams into action until he is fully game-ready. But once he is fully healthy, his ability to contribute at multiple spots will make the offense very eclectic.
“Yeah, I think there’s a lot of diversity there,” Johnson said of the wide receiver’s room. “So, we are going to be able to be creative in how we use everybody. And part of the spring and summer is we’ve just really got to highlight what each guy does best, and once we do that, we’ll put them in position to showcase their talent. But it’s good because we’ve got a lot of different shapes and pieces there that we can be very, very diverse here on offense.”
My early projections for 2022 are that St. Brown, Chark, and Reynolds open the season as starters, with Williams being in a position to challenge to start by mid-season at either the WR-X or WR-Z. Then by 2023, Williams can take over the starting WR-X role full time.