Allen Park — Finally, the wait is over.
The Detroit Lions announced Monday that first-round draft pick Jameson Williams will begin practicing this week, more than 10 months after he suffered a torn ACL in the College Football Playoff championship game with the University of Alabama.
With Williams’ return to practice, the Lions are starting a three-week acclimation period for the receiver. That puts the rookie on track to return by Dec. 18, when the team travels back to New York to battle the Jets, although Lions coach Dan Campbell didn’t dismiss a debut could come sooner.
“I think we’ll just see where he can go, see how fast he can get there,” Campbell said.
The Lions moved up 20 spots in the first round of April’s draft, swapping picks with the Minnesota Vikings, to snag Williams. One of the nation’s fastest players and most-productive receivers in 2021, he caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in his lone year with the Tide. He added two more scores as a part-time kickoff returner for the school.
Williams’ return can’t come some enough for a struggling Lions passing attack.
“I know this — he can run,” Campbell said. “He can run. You either got it or you don’t, and he’s got it. So, in that regard, he can help.”
After a hot start to the season, quarterback Jared Goff’s arsenal of weapons has been depleted by both injury and the trade of tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings. Through four games, Goff was averaging 281 yards passing and nearly three touchdowns. In the past six games, those averages have sharply dipped to 219 yards and 0.7 touchdowns.
That said, Williams is unlikely to immediately see an extensive workload after he’s activated. The team has been extremely cautious with many of its players returning from injury, including receiver DJ Chark, who logged just 11 snaps in his first game off injured reserve Sunday against the New York Giants. Not that those potential limitations are doing anything to diminish excitement for what Williams can eventually bring to Detroit’s offense.
“He’s just got so much speed, man, and he’s got so much ability,” Goff said. “Any way that we can use him, whenever that time is he comes back, it’ll give us a boost, someway, somehow, however many snaps that ends up being, however many balls he ends up catching. Just having him on the field and having his ability to threaten people vertically and to turn a 5-yard throw into a 60-yard gain, that type of stuff, it’s dangerous.”
Williams’ path to playing time might more closely mirror cornerback Jerry Jacobs, who also returned from a torn ACL in the middle of this season. He was largely limited to special teams his first two games back, before entering a timeshare on defense in his third week.
Assuming Williams does return against the Jets, and the Lions don’t make an unexpected playoff push, that will leave him four games to gain some valuable experience before the end of the season.
“There will be a learning curve, as there is with all those guys, but anything we ask him to do are going to be things we feel like he does well and he can help us with,” Campbell said. “That also will set him up to have success as well.”