The anatomy of an NFL Draft trade doesn’t happen spontaneously. It’s often weeks in the making, as general managers play out as many possible scenarios in the months leading up to the draft. They make preliminary phone calls with teams to navigate trade terms, so that when it’s time to pull the trigger on a trade, no time is wasted with the clock running.
On Thursday night, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes pulled off an audacious trade, moving up 20 spots in the first round—from 32 to 12—to grab Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams. After the long night, Holmes explained the process of how this trade came to be with the media.
It started with the late realization that their evaluation of Williams as an elite prospect grew stronger and stronger by the day.
“It was a little later on in the process. It was a while that, with Jameson, kind of seeing the more and more conviction we had on him, the more and more buy in that we had on him,” Holmes said.
That evaluation went well beyond the speed he had, although that certainly helped. Holmes admitted they clocked in Williams as the fastest receiver in this year’s class using GPS tracking technology. But beyond that, Williams had the gritty mentality that is considered non-negotiable with this regime.
“A fearless competitor,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson called him. “This is a guy that he shows up on offense making plays left and right. He’s running routes full speed, whether he’s involved with a play or not. But then you turn on the next clip and then all of a sudden it’s a special teams play where he is an absolute animal.”
In his pre-draft press conference, Holmes told the media that there were a cluster of players at the top of the draft who each had grades very close to each other. By the time they were done evaluating Williams, he was amongst that cluster of players.
“Once the conviction and the buy-in kept rising, then I started saying, ‘Okay, alright, maybe being that he’s one of those guys that we had graded similarly, very evenly up at the top, let’s go get him,’’ Holmes said.
So then the process of calling other teams about a potential trade up started. Holmes worked out a framework of deals, but there was never a guarantee they’d pull the trigger.
“It actually started before tonight,” Holmes said. “Again, you never know if a trade can be pulled off or not because when you’re trying to find a trade partner, there’s often contention about, ‘We’re seeing if this guy—’ especially if you’re trading up higher.”
Then on draft night, Holmes watched as there was a rapid run on wide receivers. Drake London to the Falcons at eight. Garrett Wilson to the Jets at 10. Then the Saints traded up to take Chris Olave with Pick 11. By most expert accounts, it was easy to see that Williams was the best receiver remaining in the class, and with a wide receiver-hungry teams like the Washington Commanders (Pick 13) and Philadelphia Eagles (Pick 15) not far behind, it was clear he wouldn’t last. It was time to call the Minnesota Vikings.
“I thought that if we weren’t able to work out a trade to get Jameson, we could work with some other teams to maybe do a trade and get some of the other guys,” Holmes said. “Well, those guys flew off. They flew off the board too.”
In the end, Holmes got one of his top-tier players, got tremendous value for the trade itself, and perfectly timed his aggressive move to land Williams.