Detroit Lions rookie Jameson Williams trusting ‘patience’ in search of more targets

Detroit Free Press

On Christmas Eve, Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams — the No. 12 overall pick in the 2022 draft — liked a post on Twitter from a fan begging the Lions to put him in the game and throw the ball his way.

The 21-year-old, coming off surgery to repair the ACL injury he suffered in the College Football Playoff title game last January, has been targeted twice over the past two games and five times overall in his four-game NFL career.

“That’s out of my control, targets and things like that,” Williams said Thursday. “Hopefully, I don’t know.”

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Lions coach Dan Campbell wasn’t bothered by Williams’ activity on social media.

“He agreed that he would like to get the ball?” Campbell said Tuesday morning on WXYT-FM (97.1). “I mean, I’d like the ball sometimes too, but I can’t run around anymore like he can. … He is a work-in-progress. He gets better in practice and sharper in the details.

“He was a little better this week than last week, and we’re going to get him a couple plays, a couple more plays this week. He’s coming. It takes work. We can’t just throw him out there and say, ‘All right, you’re taking 65 plays.’ There’s a trust that has to be built, and he is working to that, so it’s good.”

Williams seemingly agreed with Campbell’s assessment of his NFL development, which remains in the early stages. He understands the playbook but needs to clean up elements such as his pre-snap alignments.

“I want to be a professional,” Williams said, “so I want everything perfect.”

Once that happens, more in-game opportunities should follow.

Last season, Williams grabbed 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games as a junior at Alabama. So far this season, Williams has caught one pass for a 41-yard touchdown.

The lack of immediate usage can be chalked up to both inexperience and a deep position group. Williams trails Amon-Ra St. Brown (1,050 yards in 14 games), DJ Chark (432 yards in nine games) and Josh Reynolds (458 yards in 12 games) on the Lions’ depth chart.

“I don’t think we’re pressing to force the ball to anybody,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said Thursday. “We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and if that means he gets a 100-yard game this week, then great. I would like all of our skill players to have that because, honestly, they’re dangerous like that. All of them are.”

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The chemistry between Williams and quarterback Jared Goff continues to evolve, as they’re working together during the special teams portion of practices. The extra reps have allowed Goff to read the breaks and anticipate throws.

Williams is the Lions’ fastest receiver.

“The trust is there,” Goff said Wednesday. “I don’t think trust is what I need to build. It’s just timing, and he’s only been out there for four weeks now. But he’s coming along very nicely. As he grows as a player, and as his progression grows, so will his role in the offense. Eventually, he will be that premier guy. The sky’s the limit for him, but when that happens, I don’t know.”

Along with only five targets, Williams hasn’t been on the field much since returning from his rehabilitation.

He played eight snaps (11%) in Week 13 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, 13 snaps (19%) in Week 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, 13 snaps in Week 15 (19%) against the New York Jets and 11 snaps in Week 16 (17%) against the Carolina Panthers.

That’s an average of 11.3 snaps per game.

“It’s about patience,” Williams said. “You can’t rush anything. It’s just the plan.”

Injury report

Six players missed practice Wednesday: safety DeShon Elliott (shoulder), safety Kerby Joseph (back), center Frank Ragnow (foot), wide receiver Josh Reynolds (illness), guard Logan Stenberg (illness) and linebacker Josh Woods (biceps).

On Thursday, four players — Joseph (limited practice), Reynolds (full practice), Stenberg (limited) and Woods (limited) — returned to practice. Guard Kayode Awosika (ankle) was limited in practice Wednesday and didn’t practice Thursday.

“Injuries are a part of this league, and it’s the biggest equalizer in this league,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Thursday about the injured safeties. “Everybody practices. Everybody is in the meeting. And everybody is supposed to step up when your time is called.”

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Elliott, who has 91 tackles this season, missed last Saturday’s loss to the Panthers. He suffered the shoulder injury during the Lions’ Week 15 victory against the Jets.

If Elliott is unable to play, expect to see Ifeatu Melifonwu (third-round pick in 2021) and C.J. Moore in his place. The Lions won’t move cornerback Will Harris back to the safety position.

“We want to try to keep him in his spot as much as we can,” Glenn said.

Keep on running

Wide receiver Kalif Raymond is averaging 14.6 yards per punt return, which would rank No. 1 in the NFL (ahead of New England Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones), but he doesn’t qualify for the leaderboard due to a lack of opportunities.

Raymond has returned 17 punts for 248 yards and one touchdown.

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“No. 1, how many times is your opponent punting? That’s a lower number,” special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said Thursday. “The next part is, where are they punting on the field? If they’re punting around midfield, it’s hard to get a return and doesn’t matter who you have back there.”

To qualify for the leaderboard, a player needs a minimum of 1.25 returns per team game. That means Raymond needs at least five more returns over the Lions’ final two games to qualify. He didn’t return any punts in last Saturday’s loss.

“He’s done a great job of keeping the ball off the ground and making the most of the opportunities,” Fipp said. “We know he’s explosive. We try to get him the ball as much as we can, but there’s only so much he can do.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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