Detroit Lions’ Jameson Williams needs a mentor before he becomes another NFL draft bust

Detroit Free Press

We’ve seen this too many times. Nick Fairley. Eric Ebron. Charles Rogers.

These Detroit Lions were high first-round draft picks who carried the hopes of the team and either fell far short of fulfilling their potential or were outright busts.

These were Lions whose stories might have turned out differently — should have turned out differently — if they’d had better guidance and support.

Instead, they’ve turned into cautionary tales for the Lions, who now have a department of employees dedicated to player wellness, including a Princeton-educated psychologist.

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What the Lions don’t have is an official mentoring program that pairs young players with individual veteran players or a single staff member. What they don’t have is the kind of help Jameson Williams needs right now.

There have simply been too many mistakes and questionable choices made by the talented 22-year-old receiver — and No. 12 overall draft pick last year — to excuse them merely as the acts of a young person.

The pattern is more than concerning: a gambling rules violation that led to a six-game suspension, his Twitter faux pas that indicated he should get the ball more and encouraged a trade for Lamar Jackson, handing Detroit kids $100 bills, and his late-night Instagram Live sessions.

“I live a regular lifestyle,” Williams told us last week.

Sorry, Jamo, but I didn’t catch that. I was too busy handing out $100 bills to kids selling lemonade. You know, like all of us regular-lifestyle folks do.

This is not an indictment of Williams or his lifestyle. Frankly, I think his six-game gambling suspension handed out by the NFL is borderline Draconian but certainly hypocritical of a league that has official partnerships with online sportsbooks and promotes gambling on its game broadcasts.

If it were just the gambling violation, I wouldn’t be too concerned about Williams. But if you look at all his actions and the way he seems blithely unaware that — thanks in part to a $17.5 million guaranteed contract — he’s a far cry from living a “regular lifestyle,” and the Lions should be deeply concerned about the trajectory of his career.

As I said, this is not an indictment. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s genuine concern for Williams and his career because what he probably doesn’t understand is how quickly the Lions or any NFL team will cut him and move on if he becomes a problem or a distraction.

Lions coach Dan Campbell explained that there are many people in the organization, including himself, who make up a “united front” and who are in constant contact and work “hand-in-hand” with Williams as well as all young players.

“But we’re also not here to hold your hand,” Campbell said. “We’re here to help you along the way.”

Campbell underscored one of the harshest realities of the NFL. It’s a league built on transience and moves at such breakneck speed that it can’t stop too long to babysit any one player, no matter how amazing and special that player thinks he is and will always be.

In my working life, I’ve had official mentors. I’ve also served as a mentor. There are very strong benefits to an official mentorship because nothing can match a one-to-one relationship and the bond that’s created between one person who is responsible for the welfare of another.

So I asked Campbell on Thursday if he thought Williams could benefit from mentorship.

“Absolutely, as I do all young players,” he said. “And I think we’re set up that way. I think that everything that we have, all the resources we have in this building, on top of the veterans we have in the room, that we have, really on the team, the coaching staff.

“So I think we’re set up that way and absolutely I think he can benefit from that.”

Campbell admitted the system isn’t perfect and that there’s a transition from college, plus the complexity of dealing with players who come from different programs and environments. That’s understandable. But that’s also why some players and, let’s be real, the more important players who are expected to be key contributors probably need more direct one-to-one mentoring.

Putting the onus on a young person like Williams, in his first real job, to seek guidance on his own is asking a lot. Campbell said he has an open-door policy, but he admitted Williams has never walked through his door.

Campbell laid out his open-door policy and openly invited Williams or any player to visit him for a private meeting.

That’s commendable, but Campbell has too much on his plate to constantly keep one player on the right path. It’s also not fair to force a teammate to take on the extra burden of playing older brother to Williams.

I would like Williams’ chances of succeeding a lot more with an official mentor. But I hope the Lions’ approach works, because I’ve grown too tired of writing the same story too many times about talented players who could have succeeded with better guidance.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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