Our Detroit Lions roster preview series continues with the team’s second-year players. And now we move to one of the most talked-about players on the roster: Jameson Williams.
It’s been a turbulent start for the 2022 first-round pick’s career. Obviously, he was expected to have a quiet rookie season as he recovered from a torn ACL, but his second year isn’t quite out to a promising start.
But there is still plenty of time for Williams to write his NFL legacy, and it starts in Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season. But what can we expect of Williams when he finally makes his first start? What do realistic production numbers look like for pseudo rookie in an 11-game season?
Let’s take a closer look.
Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson
Expectations heading into 2022
Reading the tea leaves from coaches’ comments, it was clear the Lions were going to take it slow with Williams in his true rookie season. A November return seemed possible, but anything before that felt unlikely.
It’s hard to say what expectations were for Williams after his return. Obviously, the Lions spent a ton of draft capital to get him, but with no OTAs, minicamp, or training camp to build chemistry with Jared Goff, it was hard to know just how effective he’d be when he hit the field.
Actual role in 2022
6 games (0 starts): 78 snaps played
Stats: 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 held him out all the way until December. Williams made his debut in Week 13 vs. the Jaguars, but barely played. The hope was to get his feet wet by lining him up at gunner, 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 reached higher than 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, displaying his explosiveness.
In between those plays, 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 getting started designing plays to utilize him as a weapon.
Outlook for 2023
Obviously, the six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling rules puts a bit of a damper on expectations for Williams’ second year. The suspension will not only cost the team six games of Williams’ potential contributions, 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 is still clearly not there, there were issues with drops, and there are nuances to route running he’s still trying to learn.
None of this is particularly surprising, though. Williams has only played one full season of football since 2018. And right now is the exact time to be working out these kinks in his game.
“He’s running those routes and now he can figure out, ‘Oh, this is 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 those are really the differences, as to on the field.”
That said, you’d certainly like to see him a little further along 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. This isn’t completely new to him.
Regardless, Williams’ work ethic should not be questioned, and for that reason, it’s reasonable to expect some of these early issues to eventually work themselves out. Williams is a young player with little football experience in the past half decade. With proper coaching and creative play-calling—two things the Lions have in spades—his incredibly gifted athletic tools could be a tremendous 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 just so 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 baseline of expectations for Williams, as the Lions didn’t spend a first-round pick for 45.6 receiving yards per game.
Wide receivers tend to take the league by storm, with the most efficient years of their entire career coming in Year 2 to 5, as nicely laid out in this Twitter thread from Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald:
Doing some WR work tonight. Here is the breakdown of all players with at least one 1,000 Yd season in their 1st 4 years (players entering league since 2011) pic.twitter.com/r5LuFbkUJu— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) June 18, 2023
Is a 1,000-yard season possible for Williams? I suppose, but it seems like an overly lofty goal. This is really Year 1.2 for Williams, and with only 11 games eligible to play, he’d have to average 90.9 yards per game. Last year, only Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill averaged that many yards.
Instead, let’s look at the rookie seasons from 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 high-impact rookie seasons, so expectations should be very high for Williams. We’re talking at least in the 60 yards per game range. Stretch that out to 11 games, and this should be a reasonable, attainable goal for Williams’ 2023 season:
50 catches, 660 yards, 4 TDs
That said, one has to wonder if the bar should be even a little higher than that. Williams is the Lions’ home-run threat, and that could mean being near the top of the league in yards per reception. The elite deep threats in today’s game average at least 15.0 yards per catch, and the above average is just set at 13.2. So let’s bump that to 15.5, and you get a final projection of:
50 catches, 775 yards, 4 TDs
Admittedly, that’s a big goal for Williams. Now we’re talking an average of 70.5 yards per game for a player who has yet to start an NFL game. Last year, only 16 receivers averaged at least 70 yards per game.
But the bar should be high for such a big investment, and given all the early frustrations in his career, this would be the kind of season that would quiet doubters in a hurry.
What are your expectations for Jameson Williams in 2023?
This poll is closed
Less than 300 yards
More than 800 yards