Last year, prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, we were very high on Penn State's Derrick Williams. With Marvin Harrison gone and the uncertainty at receiver behind then-starters Anthony Gonzalez and Reggie Wayne, Williams seemed like a good fit. Out of college, he was known as a quick, fast, aggressive receiver with impressive special teams returning skills.
From Mocking the Draft last year:
Strengths: An excellent athlete with incredible speed and agility. Top-notch change-direction ability. Much like DeSean Jackson, Williams can break a play open at any time. Dangerous after the catch. Decent hands, even though he sometimes catches passes in his body. Intelligent player who has played several different positions. Quick off the snap. A competitive player who became one of Penn State’s team captains as a senior.
The Lions ended up taking Williams in the third round with the 82nd overall pick. However, 2009 was a dismal year for the rookie from Penn State. In fact, it was so bad that Williams is in real danger of getting cut prior to the start of the 2010 season.
Tom Kowalski of mlive.com gives us the dirt (via PFT):
Unfortunately for Williams, the Lions aren't looking for another receiver. And if he's going to make the roster, it appears he'll have to do it on special teams.
The Lions want a return man who can provide some spark but they also want a player who can cover kicks as well.
While it's true [Lions G.M. Martin] Mayhew still is in Williams' corner, he won't be there for long if the second-year player doesn't show some flash in the preseason games.
It seems Williams really struggled last year as a return man both on punts and kicks. This seems very odd because, in college, Williams was a walking highlight reel on special teams.
I realize there is always some transitional growing pains coming from college (the boy's game) to the NFL (the man's game), but fielding a punt is pretty universal regardless of whether you do it at Happy Valley or at Ford Field. It's not like this is Canadian Football.
One interesting note is that despite his struggles as a returner, Williams seemed to improve as a receiver. While his speed and big play ability are undeniable, the knock on him out of school was his inconsistent route-running and pass-catching.
The Colts are absolutely loaded at wide receiver entering 2010. Players like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie developed rapidly last season, and the return of Anthony Gonzalez makes this group the most potent in football. However, not one of these players are good or explosive special teams returners. The Colts spent much of this off-season bringing in people who could, potentially, add spark to the return game. If the Lions cut Williams, adding one more potential special teams prospect like Williams certainly would not hurt.
It's worth noting that Bill Polian has tremendous respect for Lions GM Martin Mayhew. Polian once called him one of the top young GMs in the NFL. So, if Mayhew "gives up" on Williams, it's unlikely Polian will second guess Mayhew's evaluation. Still, Williams talent and potential are tremendous, and on a team like the Colts you can never have enough speed and big-play ability.