It's pretty plain to see with the eye test, but data backs up where Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown really shines in burning defenses.
There's not much issue to be taken with what Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has done in his first two NFL seasons. His 196 receptions over that span are eighth-most in the league, and he rarely drops a pass. But he would like to become more of a downfield threat this season, and fill a hole in his game.
In a broad sense, St. Brown is a perfect match for Jared Goff as a reliable short-area target out of the slot. Goff simply doesn't throw deep a lot.
It's easy to see how good St. Brown is as a route runner, and how good he is after the catch. The tape does not lie. And there's data to back it up.
Numbers back up where Amon-Ra St. Brown really shines
According to Football Insights, St. Brown was the wide receiver with the highest percentage of targets where a linebacker was responsible for covering him. That feels like a mistake by opposing defenses to allow that kind of mismatch on 38 of St. Brown's 146 targets. But it's also a credit to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and Goff, to design and recognize those mismatches.
Pro Football Focus recently unveiled their 10-highest graded wide receivers against zone coverage last season. St. Brown comes in at No. 9, which might actually be lower than you'd think before knowing, with an 82.7 receiving grade against zone.
"St. Brown had his true breakout performance last season in Detroit. He is one of just three receivers that ranked top 10 in receiving grade versus zone and man coverage. Primarily working from the slot, St. Brown posted a 90.7 PFF grade last season, joining an elite group of Hill, Jefferson and Adams as the only four receivers over a 90.0 PFF grade.
Like Samuel, St. Brown thrived underneath, as his 6.3-yard average depth of target against zone was one of the 10 lowest figures among qualified receivers. That did not stop him from ranking 10th with 35 total first downs. St. Brown also ranked in the top 10 among yards per route run (2.26) and yards after catch (316)."
St. Brown was very good against zone defenses, and he was the beneficiary of a lot of mismatches last season. That's not exactly breaking news, but it's nice when there are numbers to back up what we see on the field.