Lions GM Brad Holmes knew he had to make a move. The run on receivers was underway. If the Lions wanted their guy -- Alabama's Jameson Williams -- they would have to go get him. Now.
"I’ve always told you guys, if we have the conviction and we have the buy-in, we’ll be aggressive and go get that player. That’s what we did," Holmes said Thursday night after the Lions drafted Williams No. 12 overall. "There’s not a lot of them, but fortunately Jameson was one.”
In a talented class of receivers, USC's Drake London had gone No. 8. Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave had gone 10 and 11. Williams, barring a torn ACL in the national championship, would have been a good bet to go before all of them. ("Uh, yeah," he said.) He's one of the fastest receivers the draft has ever seen, a home-run hitter in the mold of Tyreek Hill, a real-life nightmare for opposing defenses. "An absolute animal," said Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
"In terms of speed, he was the best (in the draft)," said Holmes. "He was No. 1 from the information that we have of all the receivers. That’s pretty evident. We felt really, really good about a guy that has rare speed.”
But the Lions were a long way away at No. 32. They would have to sacrifice valuable draft capital to move up 20 spots, draft capital on which they've built their future. But they also want to build their future on players like Williams. In the words of Johnson, he's not only "a guy that shows up on offense making plays left and right." He's a "fearless competitor." So Holmes called the Vikings at No. 12. And the cost of picks Nos. 32, 34 and 66 -- with the Lions also getting back No. 46 -- was worth it for Williams.
"We all know he’s explosive, can take the top off, all that," said Holmes. "I think what gets overlooked about Jameson is usually guys that are that fast, that electrifying— this guy’s tough. This guy’s gritty. He’s a dog. He loves football. He just fit what we’re about. Once the conviction and the buy-in kept rising, I started saying, ‘Alright, being that he’s one of those guys that we had graded very evenly up at the top, let’s go get him.’
"I told you guys I wanted to get game-changers. We do think Jameson has those abilities in him to be a game-changer."
Williams changed a whole bunch of games at Alabama. The 6'1 burner hauled in 15 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards last season, including a program record four touchdowns of 70-plus yards. He plans to keep changing games, and maybe a franchise, in Detroit.
"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 so we can turn things around."
The cloud over Williams, of course, is his knee. He was the fourth -- not the first -- receiver off the board for a reason. He underwent surgery shortly after the national championship and doesn't have a clear timetable for his return, or at least didn't offer one Thursday night. But Williams said last month that he's "ahead of schedule" in his recovery, which was originally pegged at five to seven months, and he did say on Thursday that he's "pushing to be ready for training camp."
Holmes, likewise, declined to slap an expected return date on Williams, but said the Lions "feel very good" with all his medicals.
"We have to do our part to make sure he’s set up for success. We need to develop him. He’s got to get healthy. But we do think we’ve got the right resources and structure in place," said Holmes.
In moving up the board, Holmes sacrificed two top-35 picks for one. In theory, that might be an agonizing decision, especially for a GM presiding over a substantial rebuild. In this case, for Holmes, it was a no-brainer. He said the "magnitude" of the Lions' grade on Williams, a player with the sort of "elite skillset" they wouldn't be able to acquire at No. 32, justified the move.
"When we saw how it was unfolding and we saw there was a chance to possibly acquire Jameson, we were pretty set on going up and getting him," said Holmes. "And it wasn’t just going up to get a wide receiver. It was going up to get him."