As fantasy draft season ramps up, there are numerous questionable decisions to be made at every juncture.
Do you risk Christian McCaffrey suffering another injury and being out for most of the season, or go with the safer option of Jonathan Taylor? Do you take Travis Kelce at the turn, or go for another running back with upside like Javonte Williams or D’Andre Swift?
When the middle rounds come along, most of the time, those decisions revolve around what wide receivers have the biggest upside. That’s where Lions’ second-year receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown comes in.
We’ve seen his upside. During his torrid six-game stretch between Weeks 13 and 18, only Cooper Kupp scored more fantasy points than St. Brown. He was an absolute league winner and thus flew up 2022 fantasy draft boards.
However, as the time since those games have grown, the passion fantasy fans had for St. Brown has waned, turning into doubt. Can St. Brown continue that dominant streak with a healthy T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift? What about new acquisition D.J. Chark? How long before Jameson Williams is healthy enough to play and steal targets? There’s no way St. Brown can score five touchdowns in six games again in such a low-end offense, right?
These are all legitimate concerns. I think the most prevalent is the availability of targets, right? Swift and Hockenson will get theirs, and with such a good offensive line, it’s likely that the Lions will try to run the ball a lot early in games. I wouldn’t expect St. Brown to continue his dominant streak, but I wouldn’t be too worried about him. Based on how other players in similar situations to St. Brown in the past have performed later in their careers, St. Brown should be viewed as nothing lower than a WR2, with massive WR1 upside.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft, St. Brown earned a receiving grade of 79.4 from Pro Football Focus. Here’s a list of every wide receiver drafted in the third round or later who earned a receiving grade of 80.0 or more during their rookie season:
The tweet includes Amon-Ra St. Brown in the list. That’s not the case, although he’s very close and definitely worthy of being put in the same conversation as those on the list.
Here’s another fact. Kupp had a rookie receiving grade of 78.5. That was 2017. He got injured and missed half the season in 2018. In his next full season, Kupp finished as the WR4 in both standard and PPR formats. Who was his quarterback? Jared Goff. Who is St. Brown’s quarterback now? You get the point.
What’s even crazier is that Kupp was on pace in 2018 to mimic his 2019 season. In half as many games in 2018, Kupp had accrued 48.8 percent of his 2019 receiving yards, 60 percent of his 2019 touchdowns, and 42.6 percent of his 2019 receptions. If Kupp continued that pace in 2018, he would’ve finished that season with 80 receptions, 1,132 yards, and 12 touchdowns — good for 267.7 fantasy points (when you take into account his 25 yards rushing). That’s also assuming Kupp would get absolutely no more rushing work in those eight weeks he didn’t play. That point total would’ve ranked Kupp 10th in PPR fantasy points that season.
Of course, there are arguments to be made. For one, the Rams’ offense was elite that year. Sean McVay made Goff seem like an MVP candidate, and now we all know that to not be anywhere close to the truth. Dan Campbell also promotes a much more run-heavy offense. It’s unlikely the 2022 Lions will throw the ball as much as the 2019 Rams did. However, as I said earlier, I’m not looking at St. Brown’s ceiling, I’m trying to tell everyone that his floor isn’t as low as some people are making it seem. Kupp had to compete with Robert Woods for catches in 2018 and 2019. As talented as Hockenson and Swift are, they’re not receivers and probably won’t steal as many targets away from St. Brown as we think.
Also, I’m not worried about Chark… like at all. The man is coming off an injury that forced him to miss 15 games last year. When healthy, he’s dropped in production each of the past three seasons, and his biggest competition for targets over the past two years have been Marvin Jones, Keelan Cole, and Laviska Shenault. He might steal some red zone targets away (Chark is 6-foot-4 after all), but aside from that, I think Campbell and company are going to build around the guy whose explosiveness they saw firsthand last year.
The biggest question around St. Brown should be when Williams is going to return to action. The rookie receiver has already been put on the team’s NFI list and will miss the first four games of the season. Even if Williams comes back immediately afterward, it usually takes rookie receivers some time to adjust to their new scheme. Justin Jefferson didn’t break out until Week 3 in 2020. He had only five catches for 70 yards in the first two weeks, and that was with a full offseason worth of practice. Let’s assume the worst and say that Williams breaks out in the Lions’ seventh game then, which would put him on the same timeline as Jefferson. In that 2020 season, Minnesota’s Adam Thielen still finished as the WR10 in PPR formats that year, and that was with a healthy Jefferson for the entire season. St. Brown is younger and more explosive than Thielen was in 2020. To think that a team can’t maintain two fantasy-relevant receivers in the same season is ludicrous. It might drag Hockenson and Swift down a bit, but St. Brown has the talent to remain relevant even if Williams becomes the next Jefferson.
Is St. Brown’s situation perfect? No. As I said, there are legitimately important questions that need to be answered, but if you’re one of those guys studying up for your draft in the next few days and dropping St. Brown down your big board, worried about how far he can fall in Detroit, move him back up right now.
According to the ESPN ADPs, St. Brown is going as a low-end WR2 right now, being selected around pick 65 as the WR24, around guys like Darnell Mooney, DK Metcalf, and… Marquise Brown (gross). He’s got upside for so much more, with a floor that seems pretty safe to me. Do whatever you want to do, but unless he gets hurt, there’s a lot of reason to suspect that St. Brown will finish 2022 as a top 10-to-15 WR in fantasy.