Lions swing trade to land 'electric' WR Jameson Williams at No. 12 in NFL Draft

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Lions didn’t wait long to pounce.

About an hour after selecting Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 pick of the NFL Draft, they swung a deal to move up 20 spots from the final pick of Thursday’s opening round to snag Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams at No. 12.

Williams, considered one of college football's lethal playmakers with the ball in his hands, said he didn’t have much contact with the Lions during the pre-draft process. But the team was plenty interested and didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade.

"They showed me that I was a wanted player,” Williams said. “I'm a wanted player on their roster and I have a chance to make a big impact.”

To acquire the pick from the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions sent their division rival three selections — Nos. 32, 34, and 66. Detroit also is getting back Minnesota's second-rounder, No. 46, in the swap. 

It was an aggressive move for a player who tore the ACL in his left knee in the national championship game against Georgia in early January. Lions general manager Brad Holmes said he started making calls before Thursday for Williams, whom he had in the group of players graded at the top of the team's draft board and was the fastest receiver the Lions tracked in this class.

"Once the conviction and buy-in kept rising then I started to say, 'All right…let's just go ahead and get him,'" Holmes said. "I told you guys I want to get game-changers. We do think that Jameson has those abilities in him.

"We all know he's explosive, he can take the top off. I think what gets overlooked about Jameson is usually guys that are that explosive, that electrifying — this guy is tough. This guy is gritty. He's a dog. He just fits what we're about." 

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Recent reports have indicated Williams is ahead of the curve with his rehab, as he's already running sprints and doing some agility drills. Holmes said the Lions feel good about when they expect Williams will be healthy given all the medical reports they've received, but he declined to offer a specific timetable.

When asked for an update on where he’s at in the recovery process, Williams said he doesn’t have a timetable, but he’s pushing to be ready for training camp.

“I see myself being a big part of this offense,” Williams said. “Obviously, they took a chance on me, they have faith that we can do big things. I'm just here to show my playmaking ability and we can change things around.”

Prior to suffering the injury, Williams separated himself as one of the top pass-catchers in the nation, recording 79 receptions for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games. He's also a dynamic kick returner, averaging 35.2 yards and scoring twice on 10 kickoff returns to earn Co-SEC special teams player of the year honors.

Williams felt he would’ve been the top receiver taken if he wasn’t injured. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson didn’t disagree, calling Williams a “top-tier talent” who gives Detroit a receiver on the outside who can dictate coverage.

“I think he checks that box, 100%,” Johnson said. “I think teams when he gets healthy, they will realize where he’s at on the field. And that’s what we’re excited about, because that’s going to do nothing but open up our run game and the opportunity for all of our other skill players.

“This is a guy that can stretch the field without any sweat. He is electric, he’s got juice. Once he gets healthy, we’re going to have something to cook with. It’s going to be fun."

A four-star recruit out of St. Louis, Williams initially committed to Ohio State where he spent his first two seasons. But he struggled to earn playing time during that stretch due to the Buckeyes' crowded depth chart. His former teammates at Ohio State, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, were drafted the two slots before Williams came off the board to the Lions. 

In Detroit, Williams joins a room headed by Amon-Ra St. Brown, who set the franchise's rookie records for receptions and receiving yards last season, and former Pro Bowler DJ Chark, who was signed as a free agent this offseason

Johnson said the Lions plan to be creative and put their offensive weapons in position to showcase their talents. For Williams, that means moving him around and finding ways for him to cause issues with his speed.

“He’s a fearless competitor. This is a guy that — he shows up on offense, making plays left and right,” Johnson said. “He's running routes full speed whether he's involved with a play or not. Then you turn on the next clip and all of a sudden it's a special teams play where he's an absolute animal.

“He just loves the game and that's what we're looking to bring into this building are passionate guys. If you're passionate and you have talent, we have something to work with."

Meet Jameson Williams

Position: Wide receiver

College: Alabama

Height/weight: 6-foot-1/179 pounds

Round/overall: 1/12

Notable stats: He had a breakout season as a junior, grabbing 79 passes for 1,572 yards (fifth in FBS) and 15 touchdowns (tied for third in FBS) in 15 games. He led the nation with 11 TDs of 30-plus yards and returned two kickoffs for scores.

Analysis: The Biletnikoff Award finalist is a big-time deep threat and playmaker — averaging 19.9 yards per reception in 2021 — who often gets separation on vertical routes due to his blazing speed. On top of his receiving production, he was also named Co-SEC special teams player of the year after averaging 35.2 yards on kickoff returns. He ended his monster campaign with a torn ACL in the national title game against Georgia, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by the start of the season and if the injury will impact his game.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins