DETROIT — At his core, Jameson Williams is still a kid at heart. There’s a childlike passion in his game. A youthful exuberance not always seen at this level. It shows when he’s parading around the field after touchdowns — whether he scored or a teammate did. It’s like he’s uniquely aware that he plays a children’s sport for a living. Most lose sight of it. Williams keeps it in his rearview mirror. In many ways, it’s what makes Jamo, Jamo.
And yet, with each snap, each rep, each play he takes the field for these days, Detroit’s young receiver finds himself maturing at a pace matched only by his game-changing speed.
He showed off that speed Sunday, when his 32-yard yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter helped the Lions rally for a dramatic win over the Chicago Bears.
WIDE OPEN JAMESON WILLIAMS
— NFL (@NFL) November 19, 2023
But before Williams was scoring game-altering touchdowns for the 8-2 Lions, it was tough to know how much they could rely on Williams. Some players find their footing faster than others; some need more time. Williams falls in the latter category.
A torn ACL suffered just months before the Lions made him a first-round draft pick in 2022 and a subsequent suspension early this season slowed his NFL progress. He missed much-needed reps, practice and time to build chemistry. A hamstring injury in the preseason further complicated those efforts. Far from a finished product by the time he was ready to return, it was fair to wonder how quickly Williams would be acclimated into an offense that was doing just fine without his services.
What people often get wrong about Williams, though, is his desire to simply be one of the guys, to be accepted. During his four-game suspension, he watched his team jump out to a 3-1 start from his couch. There were some hard days, Williams said last month. The feeling of letting down a group that was counting on him to contribute, unable to even speak with coaches as his suspension played out. It can weigh on even the most upbeat souls. But in many ways, it was the precursor to what we’re seeing now.
Earlier this season, Lions coaches’ comments about Williams’ progress were reserved upon his initial return to play. They’d say, “He’s back in the building” or “He’s gotta stack good days” when asked about his progress. He was still making mistakes. Dropping passes. Unable to get on the same page with his quarterback. Slowly but surely, though, that has started to change.
Lions coaches have noticed the little things. The things that turn an athlete into a receiver. The effort in practice, the crisper routes, the improved hands, the blocking downfield, the acceptance that the ball will come when it comes. Those are the nuances in Williams’ game that weren’t there before. Those nuances come with time and maturity, and at long last, Williams finally had that on his side.
“He’s doing a phenomenal job,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said last week. “Really, since he’s come back, it’s meetings, he’s attentive, he asks good questions. Walkthroughs, he’s on his stuff. And then in practice, he’s practicing really hard. We’re still working to get on the same page in some ways in the passing game, but we see improvement each and every day, each and every week, so far. I think the more reps he continues to get in games, it’s only going to accelerate his progress.”
“I think it’s just coming,” Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said of Williams’ production. “It’s just a matter of time because he’s getting better and he’s excited about not just catching the ball. He’s excited about being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there, about blocks for his teammates, stuff like that. The selflessness is coming out. He wants to do more for the team.”
One day following Jameson Williams’ every move at Lions training camp
There’s no greater example of Williams’ rapid development than Sunday’s game. On a day when the Lions struggled offensively, and Williams had just one target through the first 57 minutes of action, there was no bad body language or frustration. Just a process trusted.
When the Lions’ offense took the field with a little over four minutes to go, down 12, attention turned to Williams. He’s the sort of big-play threat the Lions know they have. When a play intended to get Williams open was dialed up by Johnson, Lions team captain and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown approached the receiver with a message.
“Go get it,” he said to Williams. “It’s coming.”
The Lions stacked Williams and St. Brown before the snap. As Williams explained after the game, his read before the play was the safety. If the safety showed inside leverage, Williams knew he could win on a pylon route — deep and to the back of the end zone. The Lions’ hope on the play was that St. Brown would draw the attention of Bears corner Jaylon Johnson, playing “low” rather than dropping deep where Williams was heading. When Johnson did, it created a one-on-one matchup between Williams and Bears safety Eddie Jackson — already at a disadvantage playing inside leverage.
Williams and the Lions had the look they wanted. Results followed.
“He’s part of the herd,” coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s been accepted. The way he works and the way he goes and he blocks, and he’s starting to run some pretty good routes and he’s making some catches. There’s a lot of guys that are beginning to trust him, and that’s been earned. … He’s putting in the work, so that was good to see. It was a huge moment, it was a huge play and he just keeps getting better and better and better.”
After a rough start, there’s a budding love between Williams and the city of Detroit — one that reveals itself in more ways than one. As he walked back to the locker room through the Ford Field tunnels after the win, the Lions’ social media staff asked Williams to break down his touchdown. In the background of the video, you can see and hear a group of children and Lions fans light up, collectively yelling his name when they see him.
Jamo already knew 🤯🎥 pic.twitter.com/e3KSi8gDE4
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 19, 2023
Williams regularly spends time in the Detroit community, and Sunday night was no different. When he left the stadium, Williams teamed up with the Family Assistance for Renaissance Men — a nonprofit focused on the rehabilitation and reuniting of fathers with their children — to do some good. Williams passed out turkeys to families, signed autographs and posed for photos in Detroit ahead of Thanksgiving.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 20, 2023
It’s clear Jamo’s having fun along the way, too, in only ways he can. Earlier in the week, Williams posted an Instagram story of a McDouble from McDonald’s topped with a scoop of an Oreo McFlurry. A “McJamo,” if you will. He called it a 10 out of 10. As he exited the locker room, Williams implored fans and media alike to try it, smiling from ear to ear. Some did. For research purposes.
The review: An unconventional pairing that works surprisingly well. Much like Williams’ fit in this Lions organization.
social admins eating good tonight
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) November 20, 2023
That’s the thing about the Lions’ locker room. It’s intentionally crafted to allow players to be themselves, in an effort to get the most out of them. When a team has a strong core in place, it can draft with confidence that others will eventually adapt to the culture around them, finding their groove with guys who just love ball and want to work. The Lions are starting to see that with Williams.
Williams isn’t a finished product. He has 10 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns in six games this season, and in an offense with so many mouths to feed, he might not ever be the featured target. But his coaches and teammates alike trust him to make plays now more than ever before. He has a defined role in an offensive machine. He’s found a rhythm and continues to develop for a team that is now winning with him, not without him.
“I feel good, honestly,” Williams said. “I just feel like the more I get in the game, the more I practice, the more I be out there with my teammates and my brothers, the more fun we can have and the farther we gonna go, you know? We just out having fun and doing we what do. … It’s just building confidence for me and also for the team. As we keep going, we’re just trying to be the train that nobody can stop.”
He hasn’t lost sight of that.
(Photo: Mike Mulholland / Getty Images)
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