At one point during last week’s game against the Washington Commanders, Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown stood on the sideline looking across field at the Washington bench.
St. Brown was immersed in one of the best games of his career. He caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-clincher with 7 minutes to play, and had two rushes for 68 yards, including a key 58-yard run on a jet sweep late in the third quarter after the Commanders had pulled within one score.
As he surveyed the opposing sideline, St. Brown found the one player he was looking for, one of the 16 receivers taken before him in the 2021 NFL draft and the motivation for his big day: Washington’s Dyami Brown.
“I don’t know how many catches he had, you guys can probably tell me that, or how many yards he had,” St. Brown said Wednesday. “But I don’t forget things like that. I see him across the sideline from where I’m standing during the game and every team that — I’m going to give every team hell.”
The 112th pick of last year’s draft, St. Brown has done that on a weekly basis dating back to last December.
While Brown, the 82nd pick, played one offensive snap and did not catch a pass Sunday, St. Brown tied an NFL record with his eighth straight game of at least eight catches.
Since Week 12 of last season, he has 68 catches for 740 yards and nine total touchdowns. Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams is the only receiver in the NFL with more catches (77) in that span, and on Wednesday, St. Brown was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Nineteen games into his career, St. Brown already is one of the best receivers in the league.
“I feel that way,” he said.
Similar to Kupp, a third-round pick by the Rams in 2017 who won Super Bowl MVP in February, St. Brown’s production belies the measurables that caused him to slip on draft day.
Not the biggest or fastest receiver — he ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash coming out of USC and was caught from behind on his long run Sunday — St. Brown has shined because of his work ethic, well-rounded game and the massive chip he carries on his shoulder.
“He wants his teammates to know that he’s here for all of it,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s not here to just catch passes. I mean, he’s here to do whatever needs to be done, and that’s why his teammates appreciate him, and we do.”
Campbell said Lions general manager Brad Holmes identified St. Brown as one of his favorites early in the draft process last year. When Campbell watched St. Brown on film, he saw a player who reminded him of former Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins and current New Orleans Saints receiver Jarvis Landry.
“Just his competitive nature,” Campbell said. “He played smart. He was an aggressive player with the ball in the air, he would attack the football. You saw him block downfield. He was versatile. He had quickness, and really, the only thing he didn’t have, he wasn’t a 4.3 guy, I mean. But everything else were traits that we felt like fit us, and he’d be a natural fit in the slot.”
The Lions’ primary slot receiver since early last season, St. Brown has turned out to be so much more.
He has settled in as Jared Goff’s favorite target, especially on third down and in red zone situations. His blocking prowess is upheld as the standard in the receiver room. And his willingness to do whatever carries over to the rest of the offense.
“He’s a very friendly target is the best way to describe it,” Goff said. “Like, for a quarterback, friendly is like, always comes back to the ball, always catches the ball away from his body, is always where he needs to be, understands coverage, understands what I’m looking at, what I’m looking for. Always asking questions. Comes downhill when he’s breaking out on that touchdown just to make sure that guy can’t make a play on it. Little things like that, that typically you can’t teach, and he has it. So it’s a guy I’m lucky to play with and sky’s the limit for him.”
After finishing last season on a tear with 51 catches in the Lions’ last six games, St. Brown has been even better this fall.
He went into the offseason determined to improve his yards after the catch, and after two games he is one of the best in the NFL at that statistic. According to Zebra Technologies, which compiles data for the NFL, St. Brown is averaging 6.9 air yards per target this season and 6.1 yards after every catch.
This week, when the Lions visit the Minnesota Vikings in a battle of 1-1 teams in the NFC North, St. Brown can break the record for consecutive games with eight receptions, which was set by Antonio Brown in 2014 and tied by Michael Thomas three seasons ago.
He said he’s proud of the consistency that record indicates, but indifferent to the mark itself.
“Obviously, last game I knew that, that record was at stake that I broke, but going into it I was just playing ball and it kind of happened how it did,” he said. “Obviously, next week if I get eight more, I break another record, I know that, obviously, but I’m going into the game just playing ball. I feel like the moment you start thinking about things like that is the moment you start playing slow, doing things that you wouldn’t normally do, so for me I’m just going out there and playing.”
And continuing to show all the teams that passed on him in last year’s draft what a mistake they made.
Asked Wednesday if the Vikings took a receiver ahead of him in the 2021 draft, St. Brown said, “They didn’t, no.”
“But they didn’t draft me, either,” he said. “I know they had some picks in there.”