Heading into last season, the Detroit Lions had arguably the saddest collection of talent at the receiver position in the NFL with wide receivers Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, and Tyrell Williams (currently a free agent) atop the depth chart.
Much has changed since then. Unheralded fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown put together a strong rookie campaign, emerging as a reliable target for quarterback Jared Goff, and Josh Reynolds arrived via the waiver wire, reuniting him with Goff from their days together with the Los Angeles Rams.
This offseason has brought even more reinforcements, highlighted by the selection of Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (knee) with the 12th overall selection — that’s the earliest the Lions have drafted a wideout since Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson in 2007. Detroit also took a one-year flier on former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., who had a 1,000-yard season in 2019 but is coming off a fractured ankle that limited him to four games this past year.
In what must be considered something of a surprise, Goff will again steer the ship in 2022 as the Lions chose to sit out one of the busiest offseasons in league annals in terms of quarterback movement, despite not having an obvious heir apparent at the position. While Goff had some good years in LA, much of that credit has been given to Rams head coach Sean McVay, and the team’s decision to move on from Goff leading to an immediate championship certainly supports that statement.
Still, Goff is an experienced pro who shouldn’t hold the offense back too much. On paper, this looks like the finest collection of weapons he’s had since 2018 when the offense included Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods (Tennessee Titans), Brandin Cooks (Houston Texans), and running back Todd Gurley (free agent).
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Amon-Ra St. Brown
As a rookie last season, St. Brown caught 90 passes, good for 15th in the NFL. His 912 yards placed 30th in the league, however, speaking to just much of an underneath possession receiver he was for a team that utilized two play-callers in 2021. St. Brown earned heavy usage, particularly down the stretch when he posted 51 receptions (on 67 targets), 560 yards, and five touchdowns over the final six weeks. As impressive as that was, don’t expect the USC product to maintain such a pace over a full 17-game slate.
On that front, it’s worth noting that tight end T.J. Hockenson appeared in just one of those six games due to injury, effectively turning St. Brown into the undisputed primary target on the type of low-risk routes than have long appealed to Goff. If anything, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see St. Brown take a step back in volume while being more dangerous on a per-catch basis.
In terms of long-term potential, Williams is light-years ahead of everyone else on the depth chart, including St. Brown. The question is when he will make his NFL debut after suffering a torn ACL during the NCAA National Championship Game in January. Yes, players are recovering faster from those types of injuries, but it’s hard to imagine the Lions, which are not expected to compete for a playoff berth this year, taking anything other than a conservative, long-term view of Williams’ health.
He could begin the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list and miss the first six weeks or sit the opening three contests on the short-term Reserve/Injured list if the medical staff decides Williams is at risk of reinjuring the knee.
Josh Reynolds and DJ Chark Jr.
Reynolds’ November arrival was a nice boost to the passing game, even if his numbers don’t necessarily reflect that. He did a lot of downfield work for the Lions, hauling in four passes of 50-plus yards, and the former Ram’s history with Goff works in his favor.
Chark flashed during his four seasons with the Jags, though he was always a feast-or-famine type as a vertical threat. He’ll be plenty motivated working on a one-year deal, but Detroit is more invested in the likes of St. Brown and Williams.
Fantasy football outlook
Despite a much more talented receiving corps, the Lions’ only safe bet from a fantasy perspective for 2022 is St. Brown as a solid WR3 with low-end WR2 potential, particularly in PPR leagues.
Williams is a great dynasty target, but for single-year leagues he’s a late-round lottery ticket. Neither Reynolds nor Chark deserve consideration on draft day in most casual settings. In deeper leagues, the latter is worthy of a late-round flier and has a hint of appeal in best-ball formats, thanks to his big-play ability.