The Detroit Lions have many exciting pieces at the wide receiver position. It was a solid 2022 campaign, as Amon-Ra St. Brown surpassed 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career.
DJ Chark was also a big help when healthy. The most intriguing of the options, though, is 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams. After rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in his final collegiate game, the Alabama product had just one catch in six games, a 41-yard touchdown.
Despite the limited production, many believe the future is bright for the speedy wideout. Detroit general manager Brad Holmes offered high praise for Williams at his season-ending press conference.
“I don’t think anything he did this year is anywhere remotely close to where he’s going to go,” Holmes said. “We’ll determine what that role is, and a lot of it is on him, too. He’s going to have to put the work in this offseason, he’s going to have to be dedicated in his approach and we can provide all the resources and lay it all out. But, he’s going to have to take the accountability and do it on his own. But, got a lot of faith and confidence in Jameson, and obviously, because we traded up for him and made the move for him, we all had the same belief.”
Here is a primer for the Lions at the wide receiver position heading into the offseason.
Reason for hope
St. Brown took another leap in his second professional season, going from a standout rookie to one of the top wideouts in the league. He ranked among the top in receiving yards (11th) and receptions (seventh).
Additionally, St. Brown’s Pro Football Focus overall grade of 90.7 finished third among NFL wideouts playing 50 percent of snaps. He paced the team in every receiving category, and went over the 100-yard mark in four separate games.
The USC product was the model of consistency, as he was held under six catches in just four games (one of which he left due to injury). He showcased a knack for getting open at the first-down marker throughout the year.
Chark was brought in on a one-year contract as a vertical threat. He got off to a slow start, catching just seven passes in three games before landing on injured reserve. Yet, he returned to action in Week 11, and wound up making a sizable impact over the season’s final seven games.
Chark finished the season with a total of 502 receiving yards across 11 games. He’s an impending free agent, and the Lions should make an effort to bring him back to their loaded wide receivers room.
Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond provided veteran stability, with Raymond taking a step forward as a pass-catcher. Established as a threat in the return game, Raymond was forced to step up due to injury, and wound up being one of Jared Goff’s top targets.
Then, there’s Williams, who made big plays on his only two touches of the season. His only catch was the touchdown against the Vikings, while he added a 40-yard run on a reverse in Week 17.
The thought of this group returning mostly intact, paired with Williams’ presumed year No. 2 strides, gives fans every reason to be excited. Expect Williams to have a bigger influence on the offense, after going through a full offseason and building chemistry with Goff.
Reason for worry
Injuries were a big factor to this unit last season. Chark missed six games, while St. Brown, Williams and Reynolds each missed at least one.
Quintez Cephus, who had a promising start to the 2021 season, suffered a season-ending injury early for the second straight year.
Chark is the biggest concern in terms of longevity, as he will have suitors on the free-agent market. Losing him would be a massive blow to what seems to be a solid receiving corps.
Williams’ lack of contribution is also cause for concern, as the Lions made efforts to get him more involved at the end of the season. He did have a touchdown called back in the season finale due to a holding penalty, but otherwise he and Goff failed to connect on all but one pass.
Williams appeared frustrated at points with his lack of activity. This lack of chemistry is worrisome, as some of the mishaps came because of Goff coming up short on deep throws. Still, the duo has the entire offseason to make up for lost time.
The entire unit struggled with drops, too. Lions‘ pass-catchers dropped 23 passes in total.
Just how good can this group be? If everything goes according to plan, the Lions could boast one of the league’s deepest receiving units. However, there are areas that the team must address to ensure it gets to that point.
The most obvious step in this situation is to bring back Chark as a top option, alongside St. Brown. Additionally, Williams must take another step in the right direction.
With offensive coordinator Ben Johnson remaining with the team, the Lions keep the mastermind behind their firepower. Now, they must work to retain the talent and continue developing the young, budding stars.
If the Lions want to add to their receiving unit in the draft, options are aplenty. TCU’s Quinten Johnston, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt headline the class, while North Carolina’s Josh Downs and Boston College’s Zay Flowers are intriguing prospects projected to go in the middle rounds.