Entering the season, one of the biggest question marks on the Detroit Lions’ roster was at receiver. The departures of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones in free agency had left Detroit without any tried-and-true studs to line up out wide. Running back D’Andre Swift was a pass-catching menace out of the backfield, and tight end T.J. Hockenson was coming off a Pro Bowl season, but the receiving corps desperately needed an emergent star. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has been that saving grace for the Lions as the 2021 season comes to a close.
The break out kicked into high gear with one play.
On a 4th-and-2 play from the Minnesota Vikings’ 11-yard line, St. Brown ran about 13 yards, turned around, and caught the touchdown pass that gave the Lions their first win of the season as time expired.
As it turns out, the solid game St. Brown had put together even before that touchdown catch against Minnesota was only a sign of things to come. The rookie out of USC has clearly built some chemistry with quarterback Jared Goff in recent weeks.
After never having even nine targets in any previous game, St. Brown had 10 catches on 12 targets in that Week 13 win over Minnesota. He’s also tallied eight catches in each of the two games since, making him the first Lions rookie to have at least eight receptions in three straight games. His most recent performance—eight receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown—has also given him the franchise record for rookie season receptions (65).
What’s perhaps most unbelievable about that record is that the franchise record-holder before St. Brown was Jahvid Best, a running back who set the rookie record of 58 receptions in 2010. To say that the Lions have been looking for a young star at the receiver position for a while is an understatement.
The last few weeks have presented quite a turnaround for St. Brown, who didn’t exactly have a hot start to the season. The 2021 fourth-round pick averaged 3.5 catches and 32 yards per game through 12 weeks of the season. Over the last three games, the rookie has become Goff’s favorite target and is averaging 8.7 catches and 83 yards per week. He’s put up the first two touchdowns of his NFL career in the last three weeks as well.
“He’s a stud,” Goff said after Sunday’s win against the Cardinals. “He’s a stud. I’ll say it again, he’s a stud. He’s a stud. We’ve known it since training camp.”
Goff also pointed out after the Arizona game that a big part of St. Brown’s surge in production has to do with his development as a receiver at the pro level. He pointed specifically to the “sneak” route the rookie ran for his second career touchdown against the Cardinals.
“You have to have a good feel for the space and the game,” the quarterback said. “He has all of that. He’s really starting to pick it up and understand coverage, and understand where the holes are, and it’s really fun to play with him.”
St. Brown has proven to be the big breakthrough player that the Lions were looking for from their receiving corps all year. While it may be too early to call him a bonafide No. 1 receiver, his showings in recent weeks have set Detroit up in a much better spot at the position going forward. For a rebuilding team, having a guy like St. Brown whose floor is still high—a starting, No. 2 receiver at minimum—is a huge component to lock in on the roster.
What’s more, and as Goff pointed out, the rookie has grown a lot just in this year since the start of training camp. With a year of experience under his belt and budding chemistry with his quarterback, St. Brown will only continue to develop as an NFL receiver. He’ll be an important piece of this Lions roster puzzle as the rebuild progresses.