Why Detroit Lions wide receivers are willing to trade touches for wins in 2022

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions spent more resources on their receiving corps this offseason than any other position group, an approach welcomed by last year’s No. 1 receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown.

“I think it’s just going to open up more holes in the middle,” St. Brown said Wednesday. “I don’t think we had too much success last year with the deep ball, and I think that’s an area we as an offense want to improve on. But I think adding guys like that is only going to help us.”

The Lions made DJ Chark their top free-agent addition and traded up to take Alabama receiver Jameson Williams with the 12th pick of last month’s draft.

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Chark and Williams give the Lions two speedy outside threats to pair with St. Brown and the rest of a receiving corps that struggled to win vertically most of last season.

A fourth-round pick out of USC, St. Brown led the Lions with 90 catches, 912 yards and five receiving touchdowns as a rookie. He had more than half his production — 51 catches for 560 yards and all five TDs — in the final six games, when he dominated the targets from quarterback Jared Goff.

Having more options in the passing game could mean fewer targets for St. Brown this fall, but the second-year wideout said that’s a trade he’s willing to make as long as it comes with more wins.

“We really have a pretty good offense,” St. Brown said. “We have a solid O-line, we have great tight ends that can catch the ball, that can block. Our running backs are all very solid. They can all do different things. Adding some receivers, I think we’re a complete offense now if you ask me, so I’m excited to see what we can do.”

Chark, who missed most of last season with a fractured ankle, said he has taken part in early offseason workouts with no real physical limitations.

“They’re always there to let me know like, if it’s bothering me I don’t have to push it as hard or things like that, cause they want me to be where I’m at my peak when the season starts,” he said. “But no, I do everything that everybody else does. That’s just how I am. I wouldn’t feel good going home knowing that I didn’t do whatever because the other guys, and I feel like that’s how you earn your respect and your keep around here.”

Like St. Brown, he said he was excited to see the Lions draft Williams, a big-play threat at Alabama who is rehabbing from a torn ACL.

“He’s really electric, so when he gets here and we can put it all together I think it makes it easier for everyone,” Chark said. “A lot of times in the offenses I would be used to be the guy to open up the field for others and things, but it’ll be cool to be able to open up the field for others and they do the same. We just got so many different pieces, like you already mentioned the O-line and great running backs. I’m excited. I think sky’s the limit, like I said earlier. But to answer your question, I think he’s very good.”

Exteme makeover

St. Brown welcomed comparisons to San Francisco 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel late last season as the Lions used him in a variety of ways on offense, even occasionally lining him in the backfield and handing him the ball.

While Samuel appears to have tired of that role — speculation remains that Samuel’s usage as a running back factored into his offseason trade demands — St. Brown said he remains willing to play out of the backfield … to a point.

“They took it to the extreme with him, I feel like,” St. Brown said. “Not the extreme, but he ran the ball way more than I did. He was basically like their second running back, so I understand where he’s coming from, but I didn’t run the ball nearly as much as he did.”

Samuel finished with 59 carries for 359 yards last season and had another 27 rushes in the playoffs. St. Brown has seven carries for 61 yards, with no more than two rushes in any game.

“I don’t know if that’s (new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s) plan or what they’re thinking, but he was basically their second running back,” St. Brown said. “So I understand where he’s coming from, but for me in my case, I’m in a completely different scenario. We have guys like (D’Andre) Swift, Jamaal (Williams), so many running backs on our team that can do so many different things. I mean, using me every now and then, I’m more than happy to do that. But I don’t see them doing what they did with Deebo to me.”

Schedule tidbits

The NFL releases its full regular season schedule Thursday, and while many are curious to see who the Lions play on Thanksgiving or what primetime games they have, three veterans said Wednesday they take the schedule release in stride.

“I don’t care,” running back Jamaal Williams said. “Bring them in front of us so we can win and go get a Super Bowl ring. I don’t care who we play.”

St. Brown said he hopes the Lions’ cold-weather games are early in the schedule; along with the usual NFC North trips to Green Bay and Chicago, the Lions have outdoor road games against the New York Jets, New York Giants and New England Patriots this fall.

And Chark said he’s curious to see when he plays his old team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, though that game will not be circled on his calendar.

“I mean, of course I can’t wait to play my old team,” Chark said. “I got a lot of good relationships there and of course I want to win, but I want to win Week 1 through Week 17. I don’t really find that game too important.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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