Argue With Myself: Amon-Ra St. Brown

Lion's wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is entering his 2nd year with much debate. Will St. Brown be a breakout or a heartbreak?

Lion’s wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is entering his 2nd year with much debate. Some believe that he is poised to take the next step and be a major name in the wide receiver ranks. Some see him as fool’s gold that will leave those who draft him feeling let down.  I argue with myself over Amon Ra St. Brown and the Detroit Lions offense. Will St. Brown be a breakout or a heartbreak?

 

Pessimistic Me

 

Last season Amon Ra St. Brown had a great 2nd half to the season but that was due to tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift being out. It over-inflated his numbers because there weren’t any other options. With those two back in the offense it will cut down on the targets and opportunities that ARSB gets. He’s being drafted around the 30th wide receiver right now. It seems like the additions in free agency and returning stars from injuries will eat into his opportunities too much to make him return on that draft cost. 

 

Optimistic Me

 

Yes, both those guys were gone and everyone is picking those six games apart but there is another 6 game stretch that should be looked at. Weeks 4-10. In those games, ARSB averaged 5.7 targets, 4.2 receptions, and 44.7 yards. Those stats include a week where he had nothing. that brought his averages down considerably. He was still just learning the NFL at that point.  In those six games, he did have some stand-out performances including 6 receptions for 70 yards in week 4 and 7 catches for the 65-yard game in week 5. As far as the draft goes that is a great spot for him. He finished as the WR21 last year. Even if he regresses some because of the loss of targets he will be right in that wr20 range.

 

Pessimistic Me

 

Yeah, but he failed to score any touchdowns during that span and didn’t score his first touchdown till Week 13.  He had 5 touchdowns on the year and they all came after Week 13. Four of them came in the last 4 weeks of the season. In fact, before Week 13 he only had 3 games where he was over 50 yards receiving and only 3 games where he had over 5 receptions. And when did Swift go down? Week 11. So clearly the game plan changed after Swift went down. The Lions had a hodge-podge group of running backs who weren’t anywhere close to the caliber that Swift was.  You can see the game plan change by looking at his snap percentage. In the first 11 games, he averaged 64.5% of the team’s snaps and had no games where he was over 80% of the team’s snaps. In the last eight games his snap percentage went up to 86.3% and he only had two games under 80%.

 

Optimistic Me

 

Do you think they changed their game plan? The Lions rushed 41.9% of the time in 2021. So by your theory, they would have rushed more with Swift? Well, they had Swift for the same number of games in 2020 and they rushed for 38.7% of the time. In weeks 1-11 the Lions rushed 46.3% of the time and in weeks 12-18, they rushed 43.7% of the time. So the notion that they would run the ball with Swift available isn’t true. The passing game will still be there and ARSB will be part of it. The uptick in snap percentage could be from him starting to better understand the system and other wide receivers missing time, mainly Kalif Raymond. His arc is very similar to Gabe Davis in Buffalo who saw a large uptick in snaps later in the season. Davis is being drafted as the WR29 currently and everyone seems to love him.

 

Pessimistic Me

 

Yes ARSB will be part of the passing game but so will the returning T.J. Hockenson and free agent signee D.J Chark. It will relegate ARSB to the number 2 wide receiver and probably 3rd on the target depth chart behind those 2 and maybe even 4th behind Swift. In those 8 games where all 3 played together Hockenson averaged 21.5% of the team’s targets, Swift averaged 17.2% and ARSB averaged only 14.6%. Now you have Chark coming in who will take targets away from ARSB. If ARSB drops to like 10% of the team’s targets it means heartbreak for those expecting the breakout. DJ Chark is only 2 years removed from his stellar 2019 season where he finished top 20 at the position, had 8 touchdowns, and just over 1,000 yards on 73 catches. Then you have to factor at some point rookie Jameson Williams will be coming back from injury and pushing ARSB farther down the passing pecking order. 

 

Optimistic Me

 

Yes, let’s talk about Chark’s history. When was the last time he played a full season? Maybe college. He hasn’t done it in the NFL. He hasn’t played more than 15 games in a season. He played only 4 last year. He is also known as a deep threat guy which let’s be honest isn’t exactly Jared Goff‘s specialty. Even if, IF ARBS is the number two in the offense, look at the number two last year which was Kalif Raymond. He had 71 targets, 48 receptions, 576 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He finished the year as WR52 with 132.40 fantasy points. In 2020 Danny Amendola was the number two receiver on the Lions and had 64 targets, 46 receptions, and 602 yards. He had no touchdowns but that was also pre-Jared Goff. He finished the season with 106.40 fantasy points and was WR70. That is also only playing 14 games. ARSB is a much more talented wide receiver than Raymond is. He has the better draft cost being a 4th rounder compared to Raymond who was undrafted. Raymond has 5 touchdowns over his 6-year career. ARSB had that in his first season. 

 

Pessimistic Me

 

Those wide receiver two numbers scream bust to me. He is being drafted as a fantasy WR2 and you are expecting him to be a weekly starter every week. Those numbers don’t excite me at that draft cost. Chark is a big body at 6’4” which should give Goff a large catch radius to throw to. He will soak up targets which is what made ARSB a fantasy darling last year where he was averaging 11 targets per game after week 12. If he loses targets to Chark and Hockenson and Swift how many targets can we expect from ASB week in and week out? He will also be losing his red zone work. He is smaller than Chark, Hockenson, Williams, Quintez Cephus, Josh Reynolds, and all the other tight ends on the roster. He had 14 red zone targets last season and caught nine of them for three touchdowns.  Goff isn’t known as the most accurate passer and that will hold off any large upside from ARSB and the passing game as a whole. The Lions will be run first with Swift returning. 

 

Optimistic Me

 

The Lion threw 56% of their passes to the wide receiver last year which is consistent with the 2019 number of 58%. The Lions also average about 33 passes per game. That means there are 18 targets to go around to the wide receivers per game. ARSB averaged roughly 20% of the team’s targets last season. If the Lions throw the ball 33 times that’s 6.6 receptions per game for ARSB. Even if he takes a slight hit from Chark being added he should still be in the 4-5 targets per game range. Last season he averaged 7.7 yards per target, 10.1 yards per reception, and a catch rate of 75.6%. If he gets 5 targets per game and catches 3 of them, you are looking at 30.2 yards per game. Not outstanding numbers but you can’t just throw out the last 6 games of the season. As a rookie, it took time to find his footing. Yes, Hockenson and Swift were out for those games but in those games, he was averaging 32% of the team’s targets. To say that Chark was brought in to be the one is assuming a lot. He very well could be the 2 to replace someone like Raymond and Josh Reynolds. Williamson probably won’t be back till mid-season, possibly after their week 6 bye. By then ARSB will have fully staked his claim as the number 1 wideout and be seeing a larger portion of the targets. Williamson coming back only helps ARSB by drawing coverage away. It’s by no means a high-powered passing offense and you aren’t expecting top-10 production from anyone but there is still value.

 

 

(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

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