Detroit Lions: Sifting through Amon-Ra St. Brown’s historic rookie season

(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

His head coach called him ‘better than gold’ following the season’s final game, which saw the Detroit Lions upset the Green Bay Packers, but how good was Amon-Ra St. Brown as a rookie? Spoiler; real good.

Well, to put it frankly, he’s the best rookie receiver in Detroit Lions history. I’m not saying he’s the next Calvin Johnson or anything, but he’s sure exceeded the expectations of a fourth-round draft choice in year one.

St. Brown needed just 14 yards this past Sunday to pass the mark previously set by Roy Williams to break Detroit’s rookie receiving record and got it on his first of eight receptions on the day.  With his eight grabs Sunday, St. Brown also passed the aforementioned Johnson setting a new NFL record for rookie receivers to record eight or more receptions in six consecutive regular-season games.

If you are wondering, Johnson made 48 catches totaling 756 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie. Williams totaled 817 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 54 grabs in 14 contests in 2004. And while we’re at it, I am curious how Lions legend Herman Moore fared as a rookie. He made 11 catches totaling 135 yards without a score in 13 games.

Entering Sunday’s contest with the Packers, St. Brown was fully aware that he was set to make history.

"“I’d be lying to you if I said no,” he said after the game. “I knew it was 14 yards, so once I caught that first pass, I thought it was over 14, but had to make sure and waited to see where the ball was going to be spotted. …I just tossed the ball back to our ball boy, because I want to keep that ball. That’s something I’ll never forget.”"

It’s crazy to see how much the fourth-round selection progressed as a rookie; over his first 11 games, he made just 39 catches totaling 352 yards without scoring a touchdown. Ironically, almost right after head coach Dan Campbell took over the play-calling duties, St. Brown and a host of Lions began to excel on the offensive side of things.

Amon-Ra St. Brown and the Detroit Lions offense vastly improved during the second half of the season.

St. Brown finished his rookie campaign totaling 912 receiving yards while hauling in 90 passes on just 112 targets scoring five touchdowns. St. Brown also did his best Deebo Samuel impersonation from time-to-time rushing seven times for 61 yards adding another score.

Stop and think about that for a second; I know it was a small sample size, meaning just one season, but St. Brown provided the Detroit Lions with a catch rate of 75.6%. In comparison, the great Calvin Johnson had a career catch rate of 55.7% and a single-season best of 60.8% back in 2011. Since I was curious, I looked at Golden Tate‘s catch rate.

Tate is one of the first players that I thought of when I was trying to think of a receiver with what I’d call ultra-sticky hands. Tate’s career catch rate comes in at a stellar 66.8%, with a single-season best of 76.7%, making 92 catches on 120 targets with the Detroit Lions in 2017. Tate totaled 1,003 yards hauling in five receiving touchdowns that season.

As the year progressed, the Detroit Lions went from a check-down-happy, short quick conservative offense to a unit focused on wearing a defense down with their ground and pound rushing attack that also had its share of downfield passing attempts, not to mention a plethora of trick plays.

Lions tight end coach Ben Johnson who appears to be the front-runner to replace Lynn as offensive coordinator, served as the passing coordinator while Campbell focused on the play-calling.

Also, enough can’t be said about Detroit’s positional assistants, such as offensive line coach Hank Fraley who is widely considered to be one of the best in the business. Along with running backs coach Duce Staley and receivers coach Antwaan Randle El overseeing Detroit’s surge of offense over the second half of the season.

Next. The perfect 3-round 2022 NFL Mock Draft 1.0. dark

The future is bright on the offensive side of things, and when the Detroit Lions bring in some pieces to compliment St. Brown with whether it is via the NFL Draft or in free agency, Jared Goff may become a middle-of-the-road, serviceable signal-caller.