Since general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell were tasked with rebuilding the Detroit Lions, they have always spoken about bringing the right kind of people into the fold. They want people who understand what the leadership is trying to accomplish in Detroit—both in the short term and the long term.
Running back Jamaal Williams fits that description—almost to a tee.
Since arriving in Detroit prior to the 2021 season, Williams instantly became a fan favorite. He plays catch with fans before practices and games. He gives us hilarious soundbites and seems to bring positivity to any room he steps foot in. On top of these stellar off-the-field attributes, he is also a good football player.
Heading into 2022, most expect the lion’s share of the carries to go to Williams and third-year back D’Andre Swift. However, Swift has had issues staying on the field in both of his first two years in the league, which makes having a reliable second running back even more vital.
Let’s take a closer look at Williams in the latest installment of our roster preview series.
Previously: QB Jared Goff, RB Godwin Igwebuike, RB Jermar Jefferson, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR Quintez Cephus, TE Brock Wright, G Jonah Jackson, EDGE Charles Harris, DT Michael Brockers, LB Derrick Barnes
Expectations heading into 2021
When Jamaal Williams was signed by the Lions—after spending the first four years of his career with the Green Bay Packers—most understood the kind of player the team was getting. After all, they did see him two times a year during divisional play.
A tough, physical runner who always has his feet moving, Williams is a chain-mover. He doesn’t possess elite quickness or straight-line speed, but he does many other things very well—like pass protection, for instance.
Take it from running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley, who had this to say during his opening press conference back in 2021:
“You can be one of the most talented runners out there. You can be the most talented route runner out there. But if you can’t block, you can’t play for me. Point blank. Period.”
It’s something that is often lost on the common fan, but if a running back can’t diagnose what he is seeing—both pre-snap and post-snap—then he becomes really difficult to keep on the field during passing downs.
As the veteran in the running backs room, the Lions often relied on Williams to protect quarterback Jared Goff. While he doesn’t necessarily bring a lot of big-play capability to the field, he will normally be successful in carrying out crucial blocking assignments.
Actual role in 2021
2021 stats: 13 games (11 starts): 601 yards on 153 carries (3.9 yards per carry), 3 rushing touchdowns, 157 yards on 26 receptions.
- PFF overall grade: 69.8 (30th among 61 qualifying RBs—minimum 70 carries)
- PFF run grade: 68.4 (42nd)
- PFF receiving grade: 68.0 (12th)
The numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping, but I believe the Lions more or less got what they banked on with Williams in 2021. A tough, dependable runner who excels in pass blocking (70.4 pass blocking grade, 11th) and having a good time.
Look at Jamaal Williams pass blocking, whew! pic.twitter.com/NHw4LK2jwb— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) September 21, 2021
When Swift was healthy, Williams provided a nice complement to the shiftier, more dynamic runner. When Swift missed time, Williams proved he could handle a larger workload. He had 14 carries for 66 yards in Week 4 against the Chicago Bears. Then later in the year, he had 19 touches for 77 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15. Numbers like those won’t get you into Canton, but they allow an offense to run the ball consistently, staying on schedule in terms of down and distance.
Outlook for 2022
As of now, it looks as though Williams will reprise his role as the team’s second running back. Besides rookie Greg Bell out of San Diego State, there were no other additions to the running back room during the offseason, leaving Williams and Swift to run it back in 2022 as the main ball carriers for the Lions’ offense.
Despite being only 27 years old, Williams is an elder statesman on what is otherwise, a very young football team. So while it is unlikely we see a career year from the veteran in terms of numbers, his value to the team goes far beyond what shows up on the stat sheet.
Whether it’s throwing a block that allows for receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown to wriggle free from a defender, or breaking up a press conference with his signature humor—Williams does a lot of the little things really well.
And no, he doesn’t care about Hard Knocks.