Allen Park — After nearly doubling his statistical output in four December games, the NFL has named Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown the NFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Month.
St. Brown went from catching 39 passes the first 11 games of his career to hauling in 35 balls for 340 yards and his first three touchdowns during the recent four-game stretch.
He was easily the top option in Detroit’s passing game during the month of December, drawing 46 targets compared to Josh Reynolds’ 25, but position coach Antwaan Randle El noted the rookie still has a ways to go before he can be labeled a true No. 1 receiver.
“When you talk about the No. 1 receiver, it’s like this is the guy we’re going to go to, regardless of the coverage,” Randle El said. “It doesn’t matter what the coverage looks like, it doesn’t matter what the D-coordinator has put together to try to stop this guy, he’s our guy, and he’s the guy we need to depend on, from that standpoint.
“… Moving forward, we want to be able to see him learn some of that inside-and-out stuff, offensively, in terms of coverage and getting deeper in the game plan, so he can become that,” Randle El said. “Physically, I think he has attributes to do it, it’s just a matter of time, if he can stay on this pace, continue to take all these things in and get to where you want to go.”
To even see a path into that conversation for a fourth-round rookie is remarkable, but Randle El said St. Brown has been rare with his ability to absorb loads of information and quickly apply what’s being taught.
A good coach is cognizant about not overwhelming a young player, but after taking that traditional approach with St. Brown, Randle El realized his pupil always wanted more added to his plate. And as the Lions have continued to stack information and responsibility on the USC product throughout his debut season, he’s risen to the challenge time after time.
“He’s done a great job with it,” Randle El said. ” And after all is said and done, he’s always been the one to rise to the top amongst our guys. “… It’s an ongoing process, and the more you give him, the more he does well with it. You want to keep feeding someone like that.”
Randle El said the next step for St. Brown is more mental than physical. It’s the continued improvement of understanding coverages — what defenses are trying to do to him and what his route-running response should be.
“This game is mental, and if you already have the athleticism, it’s about knowing where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there,” Randle El said. “Not early, not late.”
Reflecting on his own goals in a recent media session, St. Brown is still chasing his first 100-yard performance with two games remaining. And he’d really like to be more productive after the catch.
“Something that I just want to keep working on is yards after the catch, catch a 5-yard route, make it a 20, 40-plus yards,” St. Brown said. “So that just comes with, you gotta break tackles. You gotta be great with the ball in your hands, so that’s something that I just want to keep working on.”
In part because he’s operated out of the slot much of the year, St. Brown has lagged well behind in that area. Among qualifying receivers, his average of 4.3 yards after the catch ranks 86th in the NFL. It’s also less than half 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel, a player St. Brown has drawn some comparisons to because of their physical playing style.
That playing attitude is one thing that needs no improvement, according to Randle El. St. Brown’s willingness, no, eagerness to mix it up on a play-to-play basis epitomizes what the coach is trying to instill with the team’s corps.
Of course, that’s a lot easier when the philosophy meshes with the player’s personality.
“Oh yeah, it’s valuable,” Randle El said. “That’s what I teach. I love it. That’s what I did (as a player). It didn’t matter. You’ve gotta be a pest. … As a wide receiver, no one is expecting you to do that. They’re expecting you to go catch the ball, hand the ball back to the ref. Nobody is expecting you to hit them in the mouth and go after them play after play.
“It gets to them, it gets to bothering them,” Randle El said. “Now they don’t know when you come off the ball if you’re getting ready to smack me in my mouth (blocking) or you are going to run a route, so use that to your advantage. And it’s been good to see him do that. We stress it in our room like, ‘You go get that block. You dig out that safety.’ That’s what we preach. Again, I’m saying we’re preaching it, but he brings it to the table. That’s who he is.”
St. Brown becomes the fifth Lions rookie to win Offensive Player of the Month and the first since running back Jahvid Best in 2010. St. Brown is just the third rookie in NFL history to record eight or more receptions in four consecutive games, and he’s only the second Lions player to accomplish the feat, joining Calvin Johnson, who did it five straight during his record-breaking 2012 campaign.