Our Detroit Lions roster mock series continues with the team’s second-year players. And now we move to one of the most talked about players on the list: Jameson Williams.
It’s been a turbulent start to the 2022 first-round pick’s career. Obviously, he was expected to have a quiet rookie season recovering from a torn ACL, but his sophomore year isn’t exactly off to a promising start.
But there’s still plenty of time for Williams to write his NFL legacy, and that starts in Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season. But what can we expect from Williams when he finally gets his first start? What do realistic production numbers look like for the pseudo-rookie in an 11-game season?
Let’s take a closer look.
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Expectations heading into 2022
Reading the tea leaves from the coaches’ comments, it was clear the Lions wanted to take it slow with Williams in his true rookie season. A return in November seemed possible, but anything before that felt unlikely.
It’s hard to say what the expectations were for Williams after his return. Obviously, the Lions spent a ton of draft capital to get him, but without OTAs, minicamp or training camp to build chemistry with Jared Goff, it was hard to know how effective he would be when he hit the field.
Actual role in 2022
6 games (0 starts): 78 snaps played
Statistics: 9 targets, 1 catch, 41 yards, TD; 1 rush, 40 yards
PFF overall grade: 63.4
The Lions not only sidelined Williams until November, but they kept him out all the way until December. Williams made his debut in Week 13 vs. Jaguars, but barely played. The hope was to get his feet wet by lining him up as a shooter, but the Lions never punted in that game, so Williams had a paltry eight offensive snaps in his NFL debut
For the next five weeks, Williams’ snap count never topped 18 in a game. But in his second game ever, he produced a 41-yard touchdown, and a few weeks later, his next touch was a huge 40-yard run that showcased his explosiveness.
In between these games there was some frustration. He was credited with two drops on just nine targets, and it was clear his chemistry with Goff wasn’t quite there yet.
That said, his explosiveness was obvious and the Lions were just starting to design plays to use him as a weapon.
Outlook for 2023
Obviously, the six-game suspension for violating NFL rules puts a bit of a damper on expectations for Williams’ second year. Not only will the suspension cost the team six games of Williams’ potential contribution, but it has also raised some questions about his maturity — some fair, some not so much.
Beyond that, Williams’ game still looks a bit unrefined based on OTAs and minicamp. His chemistry with Goff still clearly isn’t there, there weren’t issues with drops, and there are nuances to route running he’s still trying to learn.
None of this is particularly surprising, however. Williams has only played one full season of football since 2018. And right now is the exact time to work out those kinks in his game.
“He’s running these routes and now he can find out, ‘Oh, that’s what coach was talking about. This is why we can’t give an extra move at the top of this route because of the timing, ” receivers coach Antwaan Randle-El said. “Those are the things he’s trying to get and he’s getting them better and better as we go. So that’s really the differences as far as on the field.”
That being said, you definitely want to see him a little longer than he is. We’re talking about the 12th overall pick here, and while he may not have played a ton last year, he did get six weeks of practice with Goff during the 2022 season. It’s not entirely new to him.
Either way, Williams’ work ethic shouldn’t be questioned, and for that reason, it’s fair to expect some of these early issues to eventually work themselves out. Williams is a young player with little football experience in the last half decade. With proper coaching and creative calls – two things the Lions have in spades – his incredibly gifted athleticism could become a great weapon in this league.
So what are reasonable expectations for Williams in 11 games this year? It’s obviously a big challenge to project the future of a player who has barely played, but let’s look at the player he’ll essentially be replacing: DJ Chark.
Chark happened to play exactly 11 games for the Lions last year, and he produced 30 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. This should be the starting point for expectations for Williams, as the Lions didn’t use a first-round pick for 45.6 receiving yards per carry. match.
Wide receivers tend to take the league by storm, with the most efficient years of their entire careers coming in years 2 through 5, as nicely described in this Twitter thread from Over The Caps Jason Fitzgerald:
Is a 1,000-yard season possible for Williams? I suppose, but that seems like too high a goal. This is really Year 1.2 for Williams, and with only 11 games eligible to play, he should average 90.9 yards per carry. match. Last year, only Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill averaged that many yards.
Instead, let’s look at the rookie seasons of other first-round receivers taken in last year’s draft:
- Drake London: 72 catches, 866 yards, 4 TDs (50.9 YPG)
- Garrett Wilson: 83 catches, 1,103 yards, 4 TDs (64.9 YPG)
- Chris Olave: 72 catches, 1,042 yards, 4 TDs (69.5 YPG)
- Treylon Burks: 33 catches, 444 yards, 1 TD (40.4 YPG)
The three receivers taken before Williams all managed to have big rookie seasons, so expectations should be very high for Williams. We’re talking at least in the 60 yards per game area. Stretch that out to 11 games, and this should be a reasonable, achievable goal for Williams’ 2023 season:
50 catches, 660 yards, 4 TDs
That said, one has to wonder if the bar should be set even a bit higher than that. Williams is the Lions’ home run threat, and that could mean being near the top of the league in yards per carry. receipt. The elite deep threats in today’s game average at least 15.0 yards per carry. catch, and the above average has just been set to 13.2. So let’s bump that to 15.5 and you get a final projection of:
50 catches, 775 yards, 4 TDs
Admittedly, it is a big goal for Williams. Now we’re talking an average of 70.5 yards per carry. game for a player who has yet to start an NFL game. Last year, only 16 receivers averaged at least 70 yards per carry. game.
But the bar ought to be high for such a big investment, and given all the early frustrations of his career, this would be the kind of season that would quiet doubters in a hurry.