It may be time for you to adjust your first-year expectations for Detroit Lions rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams. The Lions recently released an exclusive behind-the-scenes video via their official YouTube page that showcases their process of acquiring Williams, including a draft-room scare once the New Orleans Saints traded ahead of them.
The Saints ultimately selected an alternative receiver in Chris Olave. The video captures just how excited the Lions are about Williams’ prospects.
Williams suffered a torn ACL injury in Alabama’s national championship defeat to Georgia in early January. The injury hampered Williams’ ability to appropriately showcase himself throughout the pre-draft process, but the Lions still believed in Williams enough to part with several draft selections in order to land his services. Lions General Manager Brad Holmes traded all the way up into the top 15 from No. 32 overall in order to draft the St. Louis, Missouri native.
Whispers are beginning to emerge that Williams may make his NFL debut sooner than originally expected, but it’s worth noting Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell is remaining coy on the topic.
“No, I don’t see him being ready for training camp,” Campbell said recently.
Campbell indicated the Lions have a plan for Williams going forward but refused to elaborate on the details of that plan. There are several indications that Williams is nearing a return while being well ahead of schedule if you pay close attention to the emerging signs. Williams has looked good physically throughout organized team activities (OTAs) and isn’t wearing a brace or sleeve on his surgically repaired knee. Williams has actively been present in the huddle throughout practices while earning some mental reps.
Williams has landed in an offense that desperately requires a dominant target at receiver. Detroit’s aggressive trade-up (20 spots) for Williams accurately reflects the situation. The Lions arguably fielded the worst group of receivers last season, and Holmes went into the offseason with a clear goal to upgrade their pass-catching options.
D.J. Chark was signed to a one-year prove-it deal. Sophomore-to-be Amon-Ra St. Brown led all Lions receivers as a rookie with 90 receptions, 912 receiving yards, and five touchdowns last season. As impressive as St. Brown was, the volume he saw was more of a result of a lack of alternative options as opposed to his skill-set demanding that many targets on a weekly basis. The likes of Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, and Josh Reynolds round out Detroit’s receiver room. Not exactly a murder’s row of competition for the electric Williams to surpass on the depth chart once he’s healthy.
Medical advances have ensured that torn ACLs are no longer the career-threateners they once used to be. Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons comes to mind when searching for an example. Simmons, like Williams, tore his ACL during his pre-draft process (in 2019). Simmons underwent surgery in mid-February (roughly one month later than Williams) and played in his first NFL game in mid-October later that year. Williams underwent surgery in late January.
A more dynamic and significantly lighter player, Williams should have little issue matching or even surpassing Simmons’ timeline for a return to play. That schedule would put Williams on track to return by Week 3 or 4. Even if he falls slightly behind, Williams should make his NFL debut well before the midseason mark. That would leave him plenty of time to make a first-year impact.
Call me crazy, but the earlier timeline would make me feel comfortable setting my expectations around 700-plus receiving yards for Williams in 2022. He’s a dynamic playmaker that’s been drafted into an offense that’s begging for a difference-maker at receiver. Williams’ easy separation skills should quickly befriend quarterback Jared Goff, who is at his best under center when allowed to get rid of the football in an efficient manner. Williams’ advanced route-running and run-after-catch abilities mesh nicely with Goff’s preferred style of play.
We’ll continue monitoring Williams’ health and timeline closely throughout training camp and even the preseason. As the calendar months urgently flip toward September, we expect the Williams hype train to gain considerable steam. January’s knee injury was an at-the-time devastating occurrence, but Williams is still going to make a big-time difference in 2022.
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