Jameson Williams feels like he's on the verge of breaking out


Ask his coaches. Ask his teammates. Or just ask the man himself. Jameson Williams is on the verge of taking off.

The production?

"It's coming," Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said this week. "It’s just a matter of time, because he’s getting better."

Williams played a career-high 52 percent of the offensive snaps in the Lions' 41-38 win over the Chargers last week. He caught both his targets for 18 yards and took a screen for a 10-yard touchdown that was negated by a penalty on Taylor Decker. He also laid a crucial downfield block on David Montgomery's 75-yard touchdown run. Randle El said "the selflessness is coming out."

“He wants to do more for the team. Like, ‘I want to catch the ball,' but at the same time, he wants to make sure he’s doing his part to be where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there and not just in the pass game, but in the run game, too," said Randle El.

The result, said Dan Campbell, is that Williams "feels like he's one of the guys now."

"Man, he’s part of the team. He’s putting in a good day’s work, he’s physical, he’s tough. And the more he earns his stripes here, the more opportunities he gets, because every time he makes a block like he does or he runs the routes he’s running, he makes some catches, you just gain the trust of everybody around you and it just keeps going and going," Campbell said.

It's taken Williams longer to find his stride in the NFL than anyone would have liked. But he missed most of his rookie season recovering from a torn ACL and the first four games of this season due to a gambling suspension, which cost him crucial practice reps. Slowly, it's all coming together, his speed, his route-running, his attention to the details, his chemistry with Jared Goff and his feel for the Lions' high-powered offense.

Asked Thursday if he feels like things are close -- really close -- to clicking for him, Williams said, "Yeah, it's just something, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been more involved, been getting more reps, I've been practicing more, I’ve been just focusing on little details so everything can be right. When I get on the field, I got nothing to worry about. Just play football. And just worry about getting the win at the end of the day."

Williams has now had two touchdowns wiped out by penalties in his young career, including a 65-yarder against the Packers in last year's season finale. A little frustrating? Sure, Williams admitted with a smile. But he's not sweating it. He knows he has more on the way.

"It's cool. I was a little mad (last week), but I just ran the next play. I plan on getting a lot more touchdowns, so I really don't be tripping off that," he said.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said Thursday that Williams has done "a phenomenal job" of trying to make up for lost time since he returned in Week 5 from his suspension, off the field as much as on it.

"It’s meetings, he’s attentive, he asks good questions. Walk-throughs, he’s on his stuff. And then he’s practicing really hard," Johnson said. "We’re still working to get on the same page, in some ways, in the passing game, but we see improvement every day, every week so far. The more reps he continues to get in games, it’s only going to accelerate his progress.”

Know who else had a rather quiet start to his career? Amon-Ra St. Brown. Different circumstances for a fourth-round pick and a 12th overall pick, but it bears mention that St. Brown's breakout performance didn't come until the 12th game of his career when he caught 10 passes including the walk-off touchdown against the Vikings. He's only been one of the best receivers in the game since. Williams will play in the 12th game of his career Sunday against the Bears. St. Brown echoed Randle El and said the production is coming.

"It’s almost like he’s a rookie," said St. Brown. "He’s still getting the feel of the game, the speed of the game, play-calling, whatever it is. The role that he has, I don’t know if you guys can tell, the more he’s playing, the better he’s getting. So we want him to play the best ball out there of the year, and I think he’s on pace for that. We’re excited to have him.

"I know I keep saying this, but you see the blocks that he makes downfield, the touchdown that he got called back, things like that. The long balls are bound to come. You just gotta keep putting the work in, which he’s doing. The sky’s the limit with him.”

Williams said he's appreciated the process of becoming a pro, even if "it's not easy," even if "it takes time." He's enjoyed homing in on the details, he said, because "the details are going to help you go a long way." Behind the scenes, the 22-year-old has been a diligent worker.

Asked where he's grown the most since he arrived in the NFL, one of the fastest players in football had an interesting answer: "Really just slowing everything down."

"Coming in, I try to stay moving on the fast track and everything didn't go well going that way," Williams said. "But as I understood and slowed things down and really tried to figure things out, that helped me a lot. I started getting a lot of help from outside people on the team, and everything just started moving good."

Williams said he made this adjustment "around the time I was suspended." He doesn't mean literally slowing down. His speed is his best asset. He means taking the time to process all of the information -- all of the details -- coming his way, like a certain formation before the snap, or a play-call that comes with multiple options. By mastering those details, he's earning the trust of the coaching staff, which is all Campbell wanted him to do from the start. The numbers should follow.

"His comfort level, his confidence level is going up," said Campbell. "He’s in a good place right now."

For all the focus on his physical gifts, Williams does have a mind for the game. He's well aware of how his speed bends and shifts defenses. The Lions talk about it often at practice.

"There might be some plays where this route is going to clear out that route, so we already know we gotta get on our horses, grab the safety, grab this linebacker, so bro can come open underneath, or over the top. It's all part of the game," Williams said. "Every route is ran to be won, but there is a reason behind every route, too. Like I said, you might be a decoy on this play, which might set it up for your next play. They're going to think you're a decoy, but it's coming back to you. It's just all playing off each other."

It's true, the Lions expect and need more out of a player they traded up to draft 12th overall. And Williams has more to give. He has nine catches and 130 yards through 11 games, which is not the return on investment the Lions were seeking. But it should start paying dividends soon, and maybe at exactly the right time for a team gearing up for its first playoff run in 30 years.

Does he wish he was getting more than a couple targets per game? Sure. But "it's a lot easier being patient," Williams said, with the Lions winning games.

"I really don't focus on targets, that's not my thing anymore. Like I said, I'm just focused on winning. We got a real good thing going right now, something that Detroit hasn't seen in a while, and we're just focused on keeping that going. It don't matter who gets the ball. When you see the ball in someone's hands on our team, you see them making plays. That's all that really matters to us," he said.

Williams can fly. That much we know. Coming off his most complete game as a pro, he might finally be ready to take flight.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images