East Rutherford, N.J. — In his first free-agency period as the Detroit Lions general manager, one of Brad Holmes’ first targets was running back Jamaal Williams. A durable, high-energy leader, Holmes figured the young veteran could be a solid backfield complement to D’Andre Swift, in the same fashion Williams operated with Aaron Jones in Green Bay.
But Williams has been so much more, far exceeding the value of the modest two-year, $6 million agreement he signed with the Lions in 2021.
With Swift proving unreliable because of multiple injury issues, Williams has entrenched himself as Detroit’s lead back. And not only is he on pace for a career-high workload, and his first 1,000-yard season. After Sunday’s 31-18 victory over the New York Giants, where Williams scored three times, he’s now leading the NFL with 12 touchdown runs and is a legitimate threat to break the franchise record set by Barry Sanders in 1991.
“His production speaks for itself,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “And everything that you see and know about him is exactly who he is. He’s all heart, he’s emotional and he’s just a steady, productive hard-running, hard-working smart football player.
“There again, if you just listed your most consistent players, most dependable consistent players, he would definitely be at the top of that list.”
Williams has been a bulldozer near the goal line and his teammates trust him to get the job done every time he’s handed the ball close to the end zone. Quarterback Jared Goff called Williams “automatic,” while backfield mate Justin Jackson said he told Williams on the sideline during Sunday’s game he was one of the best goal-line runners he’s ever seen.
“Just the efficiency, he always gets in there,” Jackson said. “You can tell there’s a lot of intention behind it. That’s my dude and I’m really proud of him.”
Williams is uncomfortable hearing the compliments, and like any smart running back, he’s quick to deflect the praise to his blocking.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Williams said. “I just say thank you and keep it pushing. It never gets to my head because I know I still have a lot more to prove. So I’m just trying to do my best. I’m grateful for these because it’s not just me. This goes for the linemen too. My touchdowns are their touchdowns. Everybody who blocks for me does everything. It’s just a team thing.”
When informed he’s leading the league in touchdowns, after peaking at four his previous five seasons, Williams can’t help but crack a wide smile and break into a little dance. If you’re around Williams with any regularity, he always seems to be dancing, except when the ball is in his hands and the goal line is within sight.
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Of course, no one remembers the guy who led the league in anything after 10 games. Williams knows this, repeatedly saying, “The job is not done.” And, for him, individual success without victories means significantly less.
“I just want to keep going,” Williams said. “I just want them to know that these accolades are great. I love it. I’m proud of myself for the way I’ve been working to get the accolades, but at the same time, the job is not done. I really just want to see my team win. So, whatever we can do to get the ‘W.'”
That said, it’s not often a running back has an opportunity to erase Sanders from a record book. Williams, not surprisingly, isn’t interested in that conversation, but with five scores across the final seven games, he’ll stand alone as Detroit’s single-season rushing touchdown king.
Not bad for a guy signed to be a complementary piece.