Amon-Ra St. Brown not a prototype WR, but the prototype player Detroit Lions need more of

Detroit Free Press

SEATTLE — He had a career day on a dismal day for his team, and while the yards and the touchdowns offer validation and a source of pride, Amon-Ra St. Brown just wants his team to finish the season next week with a little celebration.

“What’s next?” he was asked after catching eight passes for 111 yards — a career high — and scoring two touchdowns.

“Beat Green Bay,” he said.

That’s it.

His brother, Equanimeous, plays for the Packers. The Packers are a Super Bowl contender. The Detroit Lions are 2-13-1 after losing to Seattle, 51-29.

So, yeah, he wants a win, desperately. And it’s not just trite player speak about the team mattering more than individual statistics.

St. Brown believes. More critically, he shows it. Every day in the locker room, in film rooms, in practice.

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“He’s a true professional,” said quarterback Tim Boyle, who got the start Sunday at Lumen Field because of Jared Goff’s sprained knee. “It’s a pleasure being around him.”

Boyle said St. Brown gets along with everyone on the team. But it’s not just that he gets along with everyone, he knows everyone. Talks with everyone.

“He loves being here,” said Boyle.

Here’s guessing you love him being here, too.

The rookie wide receiver has been one of the best stories of the Lions’ season. A fourth-round pick without a singularly spectacular skill — speed, verticality, size; fine, that last one is not a skill.

Still, St. Brown is showing that he can make plays from any spot on the field, that his hands help make up for the lack of a catch radius, that his route running, his toughness, his instinct, his charisma are becoming a lethal mix for defensive coordinators around the league.

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Sunday’s career performance isn’t a one-off, either. A fluke that came in a blowout.

No, St. Brown has been trending toward this for weeks. He’s the first rookie to catch eight balls in five straight weeks. This isn’t surprising considering he catches almost everything that’s thrown his way.

He can run the ball, too. Not just after he catches a pass, but  from the backfield, after a handoff, and did again against Seattle, when he took the ball from Boyle in the backfield, slipped through the line of scrimmage, spun away from a defensive back and raced to the end zone.

He covered 26 yards. And if he looked natural taking the handoff and making defenders miss, he should; he played running back until halfway through high school.

“Was on auto-pilot,” he said of the spin move and touchdown run.

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A nice place to be, certainly. But a place no player reaches without study. Lots of study.

Boyle said one of the rookie’s best qualities is that he sees the game similarly to a quarterback, and that he’s often asking questions about play design and play calling and play-calling patterns. He wants to know why certain sets are called when, and why quarterbacks make the decisions they do once the play begins.

He wants to see what they see so he can adjust accordingly. And he has. And it helps him get open in ways that quicker, faster, bigger players can take for granted.

Still, don’t confuse his instinct and thirst to see as a knock on his physical talent. Some players simply have more command of their bodies in space than others, they control their nervous system in ways that offer balance and vision.

St. Brown has talent. While hard at first, it’s getting easier to see by the week.

Perhaps that’s why he fell to the fourth round, why 111 players were taken before him, including 16 receivers. A fact that he said still motivates him.

Does he pay attention to those who were drafted before him?

“I follow most of them,” he said, smiling.

It’s a common draft-day story, no? A player feels overlooked because he doesn’t fit a scout’s spreadsheet and uses the diss as fuel.

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He called the slip in the draft a “gut-punch.”

He plays like it, too, more and more each week.

Not that he’s suddenly finding confidence and self-belief. He’s always had it. It’s why general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell wanted him.

They saw the charisma and the instinct and the belief. They saw the talent, too.

He is a difference-maker, and the kind of player both general manager and coach want to find more of in their locker room. Do that, and days like Sunday, losses like Sunday’s, will begin to fade.

One play, or catch, or run, or block, or conversation at a time.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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