NFL Draft News & Analysis

2022 NFL Draft: Alabama's Jameson Williams is the NFL's next great deep threat

Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) runs the ball against LSU Tigers defensive back Darren Evans (24) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama won 20-14. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

While he might have started to slide down mock drafts in the wake of his ACL tear in the National Championship Game, Alabama’s Jameson Williams is still on track to be the next great deep threat to enter the NFL Draft after playing for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa.

The 6-foot-2, 189-pound wide receiver became a focal point of the Crimson Tide offense last year, quickly cementing his reputation as one of the fastest players in college football. He enters the 2022 NFL Draft as the best deep threat in the class and the WR3 on PFF's big board.

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Jameson Williams: The Prospect

A former four-star recruit, Williams spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons at Ohio State, but he found himself stuck on the sidelines behind a stacked Buckeyes wide receiving corps that included 2022 NFL Draft prospects Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

The speedster caught 16 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns during his two seasons with the Buckeyes, putting up a middling 55.3 receiving grade across just 242 snaps. 

In search of a more prominent role, the Missouri native entered the transfer portal at the end of the 2020 season and headed south, where he went on to put together one of the most explosive receiving seasons college football has ever seen. 

Jameson Williams: Snaps, targets and PFF receiving grade (2019-2021)
Season  Team Snaps Targets PFF Receiving grade
2021 Alabama 832 78 85.1
2020 Ohio State 308 9 55.4
2019 Ohio State 54 6 57.7

During his incredible season with the Crimson Tide, Williams caught 79 of his 115 targets for 1,561 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 20.0 yards per reception for the year.

In total, 722 of those yards came after the catch, with his 9.3 yards after the catch per reception ranking fourth in the nation among wideouts with at least 50 targets. Fifty-four of his catches moved the sticks for a first down, a top-20 mark.

His highest-graded performance came in Week 11 against New Mexico State when he caught 6-of-7 targets for 158 yards and three scores, good for a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted and an 89.5 PFF receiving grade.

The best deep threat in the class

Having just lost Heisman-winning receiver DeVonta Smith to the NFL, Alabama was eyeing John Metchie III to step up and fill the role of field-stretcher, just as he had done in 2020 when Jaylen Waddle went down with an injury.

However, it was Williams who claimed the role for his own in Week 1 against Miami (FL.) when he ripped off a 94-yard score on a deep corner route, leaving the entire secondary in his wake. 

This kind of separation wasn’t an outlier, either. Throughout the 2021 season, the former Buckeye recorded 12 receptions on deep balls where he was at least a step ahead of the defender, seventh in the FBS. In all, 1,329 of his 1,561 yards came when he was deemed open by PFF's charting — the most in college football.

He might not be a physical receiver that will “Moss” defensive backs in contested scenarios — he hauled in just five of his 13 contested targets in his three-year career — but he has elite, angle-changing, uncatchable top speed and a shiftiness that makes him a nightmare to cover down the field.

Jameson Williams: Receiving Stats on 20-plus-yard targets (2021, Min. 15 targets, rank among FBS WRs)
Metric Rank
PFF receiving grade 93.4 19th of 183
Receptions 13 T-16th of 183
Targets 32 T-19th of 183
Yards 671 6th of 183
Touchdowns 8 T-3rd of 183
Yards per reception 51.6 1st of 183
YAC per reception 15.5 4th of 183
Yards per deep route run 11.37 2nd of 183

Williams led his teammates in basically every statistic on 20-plus-yard targets, and his 93.4 deep receiving grade was two grading points higher than any other Bama receiver.

His 51.6 yards per reception on deep passes and 11.37 yards per deep route run ranked first and second, respectively, among the nation's pass-catchers. 

When Alabama needed to air the ball out, it was a safe bet Williams would be the target and an even safer bet that he would turn it into at least a fresh set of downs.

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Where Williams Wins

Speed. But it's not just speed — he's shifty, as well, which is a deadly combination when it comes to getting open

Last season, his 37 downfield catches (from passes thrown at least 10 yards downfield) with a step or more of separation ranked third in the nation, while his 1,223 yards from those catches was over 200 more than the next-closest pass-catcher. 

The speed-shiftiness combination allows him to dominate on deep routes — corners, posts, go-routes, back-shoulders and deep crossing routes — especially compared to former Alabama stars.

Williams received a 90.9 receiving grade on these deep routes last year. His 41.5 yards per reception and 8.94 yards per route run on these routes both rank first among all Alabama pass-catchers going back to 2014. Even more impressive is that he found the end zone on 27% of his deep-route targets.

During his time at Alabama, Williams “turned the SEC on its head,” an NFL scout told PFF's Doug Kyed. His “best ability is run after catch and his ability to accelerate through the ball. He takes the right angles and doesn’t have to slow down to catch the ball.”

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How He Compares to Former Alabama Deep Threats

Going back to 2014, when PFF started grading college players, you can get a much better picture of the magnitude of Williams’ time in Tuscaloosa — even if it was only for a year.

Alabama wide receivers: PFF receiving statistics on deep targets (2014-2021, Min. 10 targets)
PFF Receiving Grade aDOT Yards per Reception Yards per Route Run YAC per Reception
Jaylen Waddle 97.5 30.3 38.0 9.5 8.6
DeVonta Smith 96.5 31.6 39.1 6.7 9.0
Jerry Jeudy 95.1 32.7 39.0 7.2 8.3
Jameson Williams 93.4 34.2 51.6 11.4 15.5
Calvin Ridley 92.1 32.4 43.0 6.8 9.2
Amari Cooper 91.8 31.7 40.1 8.8 8.1
ArDarius Stewart 85.9 35.2 36.3 5.6 6.1
John Metchie III 85.0 30.0 34.1 4.3 5.7
Henry Ruggs III 76.8 29.8 42.3 4.3 12.8
Robert Foster 41.8 34.4 0.0 0.0 0.0

Not only does the 2022 NFL Draft prospect matchup with current young stars like Miami’s Jaylen Waddle, Philadelphia’s DeVonta Smith and Denver’s Jerry Jeudy, but he posted better stats than Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley and Cleveland’s Amari Cooper.

Williams’ 93.4 receiving grade on deep passes is the fourth-best of the 10 Alabama receivers who saw at least 10 deep targets from 2014 to 2021. He is also tied for third in single-season deep receptions with 13 and leads the pack in single-season deep receiving yards at 671, almost one hundred more than second-placed, eventual Heisman-winner DeVonta Smith.

It doesn’t stop there. Even in deep-receiving stats that aren’t volume-based, Williams trumps some of the biggest names of the Saban era. His whopping 51.6 yards per deep reception tops the list, as do his 15.5 yards after the catch per reception and 11.37 yards per route run.

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How Williams is Projected at the Next Level

With the way NFL offenses have started to spread out in recent years, teams are selecting strong-armed quarterbacks like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen to air the ball out and make quick drives to run up the score. These powerful passers, added with deep threats like Williams, are enough to make the average NFL fan excited to watch a scoring machine in action.

PFF draft analysts are projecting the former Buckeye to go to teams like Philadelphia, the Chargers and New Orleans.

SETH GALINA: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

PFF's Seth Galina mocked Williams to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round, noting that the Bama pass-catcher will be ready to help any team in need of a touchdown threat.

“The Eagles need to support Jalen Hurts, and it starts with Williams. The fastest receiver in the draft, Williams gives the Eagles a burner to pair with DeVonta Smith. Jalen Reagor hasn’t worked out, so instead of sinking playing time in a lost cause, the team immediately upgrades the position.”

Not only would Williams meet up with Alabama’s former deep threat, but he’ll also get to match with former Alabama and Oklahoma Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts. Having two speedy receivers would instantly boost this team to a division title contender.

Austin Gayle: Los Angeles Chargers

With a young developing quarterback in Justin Herbert running the offense in L.A., adding an explosive target for the former Oregon Duck would be huge. The Chargers might not have as good of targets as their cross-city, Super Bowl champion brothers, but adding Williams would set the Bolts up for years and help them stay in the tightly contested divisional race.

The Ohio State duo will attract a number of suitors in April’s draft, but Williams will be the favorite for every team looking to add freaky high-end speed at the position. A finalist for the 2021 Fred Biletnikoff Award, Williams caught 67-of-102 targets for 1,434 yards and 15 touchdowns this [regular] season. He also dropped just six passes all year long while averaging north of 3.1 yards per route run on an absurdly high 15.2-yard average depth of target. He is the class’ premier deep threat and a perfect complement to what Keenan Allen offers in Los Angeles, especially with Mike Williams expected to enter 2022 free agency.

The injury he suffered against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship will obviously affect his draft stock, but a successful surgery should keep him from falling completely out of the first round barring any unforeseen hiccups with his recovery.

It's worth noting that this mock draft was from before free agency started, and Mike Williams has re-signed with the Chargers. Still, Jameson Williams would add an extra deep threat that would help L.A. compete in arguably the most competitive division in the NFL.

TREVOR SIKKEMA: New Orleans Saints

The teams in the NFC South — minus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — are largely struggling to find their identity. Now, two years after he arrived in Florida, Tom Brady is the longest-tenured signal-caller in the division. Now, New Orleans is looking to restart and rebuild.

No Watson means New Orleans will likely turn its attention to other offensive positions… However, receivers will also be high on their list, especially an explosive playmaker such as Williams.

The Saints have decided on Jameis Winston for 2022, which won't be a long-term solution. When they do find their quarterback of the future, Williams should have the title of WR1, especially since Michael Thomas‘ future is up in the air.

When it comes to Williams’ actual projection, PFF’s college-to-pro model projects him to have a solid entry into the NFL, comping him to established field-stretchers such as Ted Ginn Jr. and Marques Colston

Williams' rookie-year projections in league-average circumstances.

That 12.7 yards per reception figure would have tied with Allen Lazard, Michael Gallup and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2021, while the 61.8 completion percentage would have tied with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.


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Conclusion

Williams’ recovery from the ACL tear that ended his season should obviously factor into his evaluation, but it shouldn’t deter teams from picking up this speedster.

Any NFL team looking for a deep threat or a pass-catching weapon would be ecstatic to see Williams left on the board. His speed and route-running abilities are some of the best that have come through Tuscaloosa and some of the best in this draft class.

Williams, when healthy, will be a game-changer — much like Ja’Marr Chase was to the Cincinnati Bengals.

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