Why Jameson Williams' Alabama pedigree bodes well for Detroit Lions' 2022 draft pick

Why Jameson Williams’ Alabama pedigree bodes well for Detroit Lions’ 2022 draft pick

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When former Michigan State football coach Nick Saban was hired at Alabama in 2007, he delivered few surprises. The Crimson Tide almost immediately returned to its dominance of college football from a generation prior, winning the SEC West in his second season, and a national championship (the first of his six in Tuscaloosa) in his third.

That first title came with Saban’s calling card at his many stops: a tough-nosed, old-school defense. But the five since have featured a surprising turn: reliance on outstanding wide receivers. And the NFL took notice.

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In 15 NFL drafts since Saban took over (beginning with 2008), 57 wide receivers have been first-round picks. Of those, eight — 14% — came out of Alabama. No other school has more than three over that span. Alabama’s run as “Wide Receiver U.” began with Julio Jones in 2011 and continued through last month, when the Detroit Lions selected Jameson Williams at No. 12 overall.

Alabama receiver Jameson Williams makes a move vs. Texas A&M on Oct. 9, 2021.

Alabama receiver Jameson Williams makes a move vs. Texas A&M on Oct. 9, 2021.

Williams had 79 catches for 1,572 yards (the third-highest total in Alabama program history) in his lone season with the Crimson Tide after transferring from Ohio State. The Missouri native tore his ACL in January’s College Football Playoff title game, but expects to be ready by the start of the 2022 season.

So what can the Lions expect from Williams, based on his fellow Crimson Tide wideouts drafted during the reign of Saban? (Apologies to Dennis Homan, the only other ‘Bama receiver to go in the first round, back in 1968.) Let’s take a look at the previous seven:

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Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs with the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs with the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs with the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Pick: No. 6.

At Alabama: Waddle had just 28 catches for 591 yards in his final season in Tuscaloosa, but that comes with an asterisk — he averaged 139.3 yards over his first four games before an ankle injury cost him all but a brief appearance in the CFP title game.

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As a rookie: Reunited with former ’Bama QB Tua Tagovailoa, Waddle caught 74.3% of his targets for 104 receptions, 1,015 yards and six TDs over 16 games. That included three games with double-digit receptions and a 137-yard performance against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12.

The verdict? Waddle led all rookies in receptions, finished third in yards receiving and fourth in catch percentage (just behind the Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown at 75.6%). The Dolphins doubled down on speedy WRs with an offseason trade for Tyreek Hill, but Waddle seems like a building block in South Florida.

2021: DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs the ball during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia.Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs the ball during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs the ball during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Pick: No. 10.

At Alabama: When Waddle went down, Smith became the focal point of the Alabama offense, as he hauled in 117 catches for 1,856 yards, 23 touchdowns and the Heisman Trophy. Even with a hand injury in the national title game, he torched Ohio State for 12 catches, 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

As a rookie: Smith’s year in Philly featured a reunion, too, as he had ex-‘Bama QB Jalen Hurts throwing to him for most of the year. No team attempted fewer passes than the Eagles, but on 104 targets, Smith still had 64 catches for 916 yards and five touchdowns, good for fourth, third and third among rookie receivers.

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The verdict? The Eagles also nabbed a veteran wideout — A.J. Brown, formerly of the Tennessee Titans — during the draft, so it appears more passes are in the plans for 2022. Presumably those will go Smith’s way, as well, as Philly went 2-1 when he had six receptions or more, and coach Nick Sirianni publicly lamented not involving Smith more in the Eagles’ playoff loss in Tampa Bay.

2020: Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

Former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III has been charged with two felonies in a fatal car crash.Former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III has been charged with two felonies in a fatal car crash.

Former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III has been charged with two felonies in a fatal car crash.

Pick: No. 12.

At Alabama: What he lacked in quantity — just 98 receptions over three full seasons with the Tide — he made up for in quality, with 24 touchdown catches and a 17.5-yard average per catch.

As a rookie: Ruggs maintained the field-stretching ability, with 17.4 yards per reception (sixth among rookie receivers that season), but his 43 targets were fifth on the roster (and 14th among rookies). He held onto 60.4% of those for 26 receptions, 452 yards and two touchdowns, none of which cracked the top 10 among rookie wideouts.

The verdict? Ruggs appeared to be having a breakout second season, equaling or bettering his rookie totals in just seven games (24 catches on 36 targets for 469 yards and two TDs). But his disastrous decision to speed on a residential street in Vegas, allegedly hitting 156 mph with a BAC double the legal limit, resulted in the car crash death of a 23-year-old woman and her dog — and charges that could deliver 50 years in prison. The Raiders released Ruggs soon after the crash.

2020: Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) is tackled by Detroit Lions safety C.J. Moore (38) as linebacker Jessie Lemonier (52) defends in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on Dec. 12, 2021.Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) is tackled by Detroit Lions safety C.J. Moore (38) as linebacker Jessie Lemonier (52) defends in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on Dec. 12, 2021.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) is tackled by Detroit Lions safety C.J. Moore (38) as linebacker Jessie Lemonier (52) defends in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High on Dec. 12, 2021.

Pick: No. 15.

At Alabama: Just ask Jim Harbaugh how dominant Jeudy could be in college, as the Florida native torched the Wolverines for six catches and 204 yards in the 2020 Citrus Bowl. That was the capper to a two-year run in which Jeudy had 145 catches for 2,478 yards and 24 touchdowns over 28 games.

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As a rookie: Despite the Broncos’ issues at QB — Drew Lock, ex-Lion Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien all started games — or perhaps because of them, Jeudy was targeted 113 times, second-most among rookie receivers. But he hauled in just 46% of them, for 52 catches, 856 yards (with a 16.5 yards-per-catch average) and three TDs.

The verdict? Jeudy suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1 in 2021, costing him six weeks and much of his potential dominance after his return; he caught 65.3% of his targets (32-for-49), but averaged just 12.3 yards per reception and didn’t reach the end zone over his final nine games. Will Denver’s trade for QB Russell Wilson bring out the star in Jeudy again? We’ll see.

2018: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley gets past Lions safety Duron Harmon to catch a touchdown during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley gets past Lions safety Duron Harmon to catch a touchdown during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley gets past Lions safety Duron Harmon to catch a touchdown during the second quarter Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.

Pick: No. 26.

At Alabama: Ridley, after 161 catches for 1,814 yards in his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, emerged as a superstar his junior year, despite a career-low 63 catches. When he got the ball, though, he produced 967 yards (a 15.3-yard average per catch) and five TDs.

As a rookie: Before Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase shattered rookie receiving records, Ridley put up strong numbers his first year in Atlanta. He led all rookie wideouts in receptions (64), yards receiving (821) and touchdowns (10) while finishing second (among WRs with at least 20 receptions) in catch percentage (69.6%) en route to a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team.

The verdict? Injuries limited Julio Jones to nine games, opening Ridley’s path to a breakout third season in 2020; he caught 90 passes (on 143 targets) for 1,374 yards and nine TDs while earning second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press. But 2021 has left Ridley’s career in limbo; he played in just five games, with the final a stinker (four catches on 10 targets for 26 yards) in Week 6, before leaving the team to deal with “mental health issues.” During the time away, Ridley bet on NFL games, including those featuring the Falcons, leading to March’s suspension for the entire upcoming season.

2015: Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs into the end zone on a 26-yard touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs into the end zone on a 26-yard touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) runs into the end zone on a 26-yard touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Pick: No. 4.

At Alabama: After piling up 1,736 yards and 15 TDs on 104 catches over his first two seasons, Cooper nearly matched that in his junior season alone: 1,727 yards on 124 catches with 16 TDs. His single-season total was nearly 600 yards more than the previous school record. And he didn’t do it only against cupcakes; all three of his 200-yard games in 2014 were against SEC foes.

As a rookie: The Raiders put Cooper to work right away, as his 130 targets topped all rookie WRs (and ranked 17th overall). But he caught just 55.4% resulting in 72 receptions for 1,070 yards (a 14.9-yard average) and six TDs; it was enough to land him on the All-Rookie team, a third-place finish in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting (behind Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston) and a Pro Bowl berth.

The verdict? An absolutely dreadful third season (48 catches on 96 targets for 680 yards in 2017) and a big contract demand greased the wheels for a trade to Dallas six games into the 2018 season. Cooper immediately reverted to form, with 725 yards over nine games his first season with the Cowboys. Three seasons after that, however, and the honeymoon is over, with the Cowboys dealing Cooper to Cleveland in mid-March.

2011: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) hauls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the fourth quarter Nov. 11, 2012, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-27.Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) hauls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the fourth quarter Nov. 11, 2012, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-27.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) hauls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the fourth quarter Nov. 11, 2012, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-27.

Pick: No. 6.

At Alabama: The numbers over three seasons are impressive enough — 179 receptions, 2,653 yards, 15 touchdowns for a Crimson Tide squad still relying on the running game and defense. But there’s also the testimonial from Saban himself: “There’s nobody that we’ve had that was a better leader or did more to enhance the culture of toughness, giving effort, finishing plays, being a great competitor than Julio Jones did.”

As a rookie: Jones’ adjustment took time, with just 100 yards on seven catches in his first two games combined. But he topped 100 yards in five of his final 10 games that season to finish with 54 catches for 959 yards, eight TDs and a spot on the All-Rookie team despite missing four games due to injuries.

The verdict? Jones’ production dwindled in 2020, his final season with the Falcons, and 2021, his first season with the Titans. But his career numbers — 879 catches 13,330 yards, 61 TDs, seven Pro Bowls, two All-Pro nods and a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2010s team — suggest he’ll be making an August trip to Canton, Ohio, sometime this decade.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions’ Jameson Williams brings impressive Alabama pedigree

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