Allen Park — What does a second-year leap look like for a player who has established themselves as one of the best in their draft class?
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Friday that for wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, there might actually be a decline in sheer production in 2022 — and that’s not a bad thing.
Detroit bolstered its receiver room over the offseason, adding the speedy Jameson Williams with pick No. 12 in the draft and former Pro Bowler DJ Chark via free agency. Those additions, plus the return of T.J. Hockenson, who missed the last five games of last season with a hand injury, should take a little bit off St. Brown’s plate for the betterment of the team, Campbell said.
“I think the hope is that we’ve got enough weapons and enough of an arsenal here that we’re able to spread this out and the production gets spread out even,” Campbell said. “But (St. Brown will) be steady and consistent and whenever you need him, you know you got him and he’s going to make the plays for you.”
St. Brown — and the Lions’ offense as a whole — got off to a sluggish start last season. As St. Brown went, Detroit did, too. He averaged 8½ receptions and 103½ all-purpose yards in the final six games of the year, as the Lions went 3-3. If there is such a thing as a rookie wall in the NFL, he pole-vaulted over it, starting with a walk-off touchdown catch against Minnesota in Week 13.
Now, St. Brown said, he’s focused on doing the things that don’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet or win fantasy football games.
“Besides production, there’s things that don’t go on the stats — blocking, missed assignments. (I’m) trying to have the least amount of missed assignments,” St. Brown said.
And yet, he also added: “The end of last year, I had more production. I think I want that same production starting right away this year.”
So, which way will the pendulum actually swing? You could make a case for either direction.
Campbell is right: More weapons, an alleged bump in the game plan from seemingly beloved offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Year 2 of quarterback Jared Goff being in the building — in theory, it all figures to make the Lions’ offense more well-rounded.
“(Goff) looks much more comfortable. … Last year was a brand new everything — new coaches, new receivers. I think chemistry is a big thing as quarterbacks, receivers and even tight ends. So for him, having that year under his belt, I think we just understand each other better. It’s going to pay off,” St. Brown said.
“As an offense, we’re clicking right now. Coach Ben has us rolling. We love the offense.”
But at the same time, one could also make the argument that St. Brown’s skill set sets him up to be one who could benefit the most in an offense that can finally spread things out.
“When you have guys like that who can stretch the field, everything underneath is much more open. Safeties are backpedaling more, corners are running back. Even for (Chark and Williams), it’s going to open things up,” St. Brown said. “You’ve got corners who are afraid of your speed, afraid of the deep ball. They can curl route right in front of them.
“So as an offense, it adds a whole new element, and I’m excited to see what happens this season.”
One thing that won’t change in 2022: The chip on St. Brown’s shoulder. He’ll still be catching 202 passes on the JUGS machine after practice, and he’ll still be looking to find something that he didn’t quite master in his rookie year: Consistency.
“(Last season) definitely motivates me. Like I said, I had a chip on my shoulder coming into this league, and it’s not going nowhere for me,” St. Brown said.
“The goal of this league is to be consistent, like I said earlier, last year. So for me, proving that I can do what I did last year and even more is what’s keeping me going right now.”