The Detroit Lions entered the third day of the NFL draft with glaring long-term needs at both wide receiver and linebacker, but managed to address both within 30 minutes of the fourth round beginning on Saturday.
The Lions used the No. 112 pick to snag USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, then traded their fifth-round choice (No. 154) and next year’s fourth-rounder to Cleveland for pick No. 113, where they took Purdue linebacker Derrick Barnes.
The Lions also picked up a seventh-round selection in the deal.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound St. Brown comes from a uniquely athletic family. His father, John, was an internationally known body builder who twice earned the crown of Mr. Universe in the 1980’s. All three of his sons would go on to play football, with Equanimeous St. Brown currently a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers.
Not surprisingly, the competition level was fierce in the St. Brown household growing up. Amon-Ra said he began lifting weights at six years old, first with PVC pipes to learn form, before slowly adding pounds.
“We’re all doing everything together,” Amon-Ra said. “We’re lifting weights together, we’re training together, we’re out on the field running together, we’re playing basketball together. It was really competitive in our household and I think it just brought the best out of me growing up. I was the youngest, and the youngest brother always has to try to push harder to win everything that they do. It just made me super competitive, I think, having two older brothers and I’m actually glad I was the youngest because I think it helped me in life.”
In three seasons with the Trojans, St. Brown hauled in 178 passes for 2,270 yards and 16 touchdowns. He played both outside and in the slot, providing the Lions with a versatile option for their corps.
St. Brown takes pride in his physicality, durability and ability to come down with 50/50 balls.
“I think in my college career, I didn’t miss one game,” he said. “I played every game and I think that’s a testament to the work I put in the weight room, taking care of my body and making sure my body is strong enough to take those impacts and hit. And it helps with blocking, all types of stuff when you’re out on the field. Just those things right there that I named is why I think weight lifting and being strong is very important.”
Versatility is also a key part of Barnes’ profile. The six-foot, 238-pounder is a strong, athletic linebacker, who has spent time both playing both off-the-ball and rushing from the line of scrimmage.
Barnes said playing both spots gave him a better understanding of the whole defense.
“That kind of helps my game out because I know as a MIKE linebacker you can (put) the people where they need to be, make adjustments, be a leader on the defense, be the quarterback of the defense,” Barnes explained. “And that just helped me because I understand, in my mind, what it is to be a d-lineman and a linebacker. I think that’s elevated my game throughout this 2020 season.”
Barnes acknowledges his coverage skills are still a work in progress since he wasn’t asked to do it often at Purdue. But given the impressive numbers he posted at his pro day, he’s confident in his ability to get better in that area in a hurry.
“Always willing to take on new techniques and new tasks,” he said. “I think that I could be great in coverage. I think that I have the athleticism and speed to do it. I’m excited to take on that challenge. Didn’t do it much at Purdue, but always willing to learn. I showed some flashes of being able to cover in college. In the NFL, it’s a lot more advanced, and I’m just going to take on that challenge and give it all I got and work on my technique day in and day out.”
Barnes also figures to play a key role on special teams for the Lions.
“Freshman year, that’s what I was known for is a special teams guy, the guy that you know was going to be on the field and go make a play,” he said. “I played almost every special teams from punt return to punt to kickoff return to kickoff. I played PAT block. I did a lot. Sophomore year, I did the same thing. I’m ready to come in there and contribute any way I can. I’m going to give 110% in anything I do. I’m just ready to come play football.”