Jameson Williams: The Draft's Top Big-Play Threat

Alabama Crimson Tide WR Jameson Williams
Alabama Crimson Tide WR Jameson Williams
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - The 2020 Ohio State roster had more wide receiver talent than the Buckeyes knew what to do with. This year's draft prospects, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, are the obvious names, but the Buckeyes also have another first-round receiver on the way for 2023 in Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Behind all of them was Jameson Williams, a four-star vertical threat who got lost in the shuffle when Olave and Wilson won starting jobs as outside receivers early on in their careers.

Williams then transferred to Alabama for the 2021 season, which is a funny thought on its own considering how much wide receiver talent Alabama has produced recently. The Crimson Tide receiver room was not as stacked as usual this year, though, giving Williams a chance to shine as brightly as the Buckeyes teammates he left behind. He took that chance and ran with it, all the way to the first round.

Speed is the natural starting point with Williams. With or without the ball, Williams plays at a different pace than everyone else around him. He stretches the defense thin by nature of being on the field while also being a threat to take one to the house any time he touches the ball. It is not by chance that Williams' 15 touchdowns last season were scored from an average of 47.6 yards out.

Williams (1), starts this play in the left slot aligned just inside the hash, but slightly expands himself outside the hash for the first 15 yards of the route. Not only does that help put space between himself and the slot cornerback carrying him vertically, but it forces the deep safety to respect him high and outside. Once the safety takes himself too wide, Williams turns the jets all the way on and teleports past the secondary, opening up an easy deep window for a touchdown. It is a terrifying sight for defenses when a receiver can access that kind of speed with relative ease.

That speed is just as lethal when Williams gets the ball earlier in the play. Williams (the man at the line of scrimmage in the bunch at the top of the screen) gets open for free here, but the speed is on full display once he brings the ball in. The moment Williams turns up the field and sees open grass, he kicks into a different gear. Williams instantly gets to top speed, both separating himself from the pack of defenders chasing him from behind as well as the deep safety trying to cut him off from over the top. That clean of a runway will not come around often, but it is clear Williams has game-changing speed once the ball is his.

Williams is not just a speed guy, either. Too often these track star-style wide receivers get by on speed alone all the way through college, only to fizzle out or struggle to reach their potential in the league once they are asked to be real wide receivers. That will not be a concern for this former Bama receiver. Williams is a fairly refined route-runner who understands how to use his speed as a threat and create space for himself at all three levels of the field.

Things get interesting on this rep when Williams, again the point man in the bunch set, turns back up the middle of the field after beating press. As Williams cuts up the middle, the cornerback trailing him is fighting hard to get back into tight outside leverage on Williams' back hip. That is where the cornerback wants to be because the safety can handle anything inside and on top, theoretically. Williams maintains the vertical push and begins leaning slightly to his right just enough to get the cornerback to believe he is in a favorable position again, baiting the cornerback to rest on his laurels for a second. The moment Williams feels the cornerback throttle down ever so slightly, Williams snaps off the deep crossing route the other way and initiates a footrace with the entire secondary.

In this example, Williams shows off the ability to tempo his routes and threaten with speed to force the cornerback to concede space in the intermediate area. Williams (bottom) is facing off coverage and comes off the ball at less than full speed. He takes his time getting to the first break point, then slams his foot on the gas when he finally cuts across the field. The sudden change in pace, with Williams' speed, gets the cornerback to overcommit to running with Williams across the field. Williams takes advantage of the uneven cornerback trying to catch up by slamming on the breaks. Williams's smooth hips, light feet, and explosiveness make it easy for him to snap this route off and get back to the quarterback without being clunky or drifting into the cornerback on the break.

Williams is the outside player in the bunch this time around. Often times, both at Bama and on any team that uses tight bunch formations, the outside receiver will run some sort of out route to target the space naturally created by the tightness of the formation. Defenses know that, too, though, and it's on Williams to make them second guess so he can still attack that area. In this clip, Williams does just that. After expanding to the hash mark, which lets Williams attack the corner head-up instead of from an angle, Williams sells the vertical stem with full speed. The cornerback responds by giving up even more space to stay on top of the receiver. Williams' deep speed threatens the defensive back enough to create more cushion, while his flexibility and suddenness allow him to snap off the route in a jiffy and make full use of the space he afforded himself.

With all of that in mind, it is important to remember the drawbacks that tend to come with Williams' archetype. While he is more nuanced than the average speed demon, the reality is that a lanky 189-pound receiver can only handle so much physicality. Oddly enough, Williams handles press coverage at the line fairly well thanks to his unholy explosive ability, but when contested later in routes and at the catch point, he can wither away. Fighting in traffic and winning contested situations are not staples of his game.

This is more a good play by the cornerback than anything, but it illustrates some of Williams' limitations when it comes to play strength. A bigger, stronger, tougher receiver could understand the cornerback is driving on the ball and fight like hell to beat him there. That does not mean a bigger, stronger, tougher receiver will always beat the cornerback to the spot, muscle him out, and win at the catch point, but it at least gives the play a chance and strips the cornerback of a clear shot at the ball. Instead, Williams keeps a low pace and surrenders to the cornerback in the jostle for positioning.

It is rare that Williams goes up to win the ball in the air or when it is contested, either. There are glimpses here and there, including one snag over the middle against Texas A&M, but there is no reason to believe Williams is going to be a security blanket type of receiver. He just does not fight contact that well and his hands lose some of their stickiness when the ball is out of his frame.

The good news is Williams is typically open enough that this does not become an issue. Even the best receivers can not get open all the time, though, especially in the NFL. While far from detrimental to his game, it does hurt Williams that he does not have the physicality and catch-in-traffic consistency to fully round out his skill set.

Health is what is really jeopardizing Williams as a prospect. After a clean regular season, Williams tore his ACL in the National Championship Game. An ACL tear is bad on its own, but the timing of the injury is troublesome as well. Williams will have no chance of doing pre-draft workouts, and it is not entirely clear how ready he will be by the time training camp rolls around. Had the injury happened in September, it would still be a knock on his profile, but there would at least be more clarity about his readiness for his rookie training camp and season. For a player so reliant on speed, acceleration, and explosiveness, losing any of that could bring a major hit to Williams' effectiveness.

Barring health, though, Williams is a fantastic prospect. His skinnier frame and unimposing physical presence bar him from being in the truly elite tier, but Williams' blend of speed, explosiveness, and thoughtful route-running make for a receiver who can attack defenses all over the field on a down-to-down basis while also being the biggest home run threat in the game. The only thing that should keep Williams out of the draft's top 15 is the ACL injury, but if he recovers completely, some team is going to get a stud.

As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy.

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4 comments, Last at 05 Mar 2022, 12:36pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 03, 2022 - 11:33am

by slamming on the breaks.

Brakes. Unless you meant his ACL.

Points: 0

#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 03, 2022 - 1:22pm

Hard to compare to Burks and London but we'll know more after today. 

Points: 0

#3 by Theo // Mar 05, 2022 - 12:19pm

Not taking anything away from him, but what on earth are those safeties doing on the first 2 plays?

Points: 0

#4 by Jimmy // Mar 05, 2022 - 12:36pm

I had a review of the tape and I would say that they are panicking and then crapping themselves.

Points: 0

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