DETROIT — Numbers don’t lie.
Offensively, the Detroit Lions were one of the most dangerous teams in the league in 2022, with the unit averaging the fifth-most points per game (25.71) in the NFL. And although there were other contributing factors, the passing game — spearheaded by quarterback Jared Goff — led the way.
Goff utilized a versatile wideout room, getting contributions from Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Tom Kennedy and Jameson Williams to throw for 4,438 yards with 29 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions — with receivers catching 16 of those TDs.
Chark has left for the Carolina Panthers in free agency, but the Lions added Marvin Jones Jr. on Wednesday to take his place.
Aside from that, the core of the receiver room is still intact and could see a boost if the speedy Williams delivers on the promise that resulted in the former Alabama standout being taken No. 12 overall in the 2022 draft. His ability to make plays down the field would offer a perfect complement to St. Brown’s production and dependability, raising the ceiling on an already formidable Lions passing attack even more. If not, with the addition of Jones, the Lions have no shortage of options to be their downfield threat.
Here’s a closer look at the wide receiver position in Detroit during free agency and the upcoming draft.
How did they perform in 2022?
St. Brown continued to post record-setting numbers and was added to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown. He was the star of the receiver room, posting the sixth-most receptions in the NFL (106) for 1,161 yards, his first career 1,000-yard season. St. Brown is tied with Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas for the most receptions (196) over the first two seasons in NFL history and is second (2,073) behind Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson (2,087) for the most receiving yards through two seasons in franchise history.
Raymond was the iron man of the room, appearing in all 17 games and registering 616 yards, while Chark and Reynolds combined for 981 yards and six touchdowns. However, after one season in Detroit, Chark joined Carolina, leaving the Lions to fill that void with a deep-ball option.
Who’s coming back?
Outside of Chark, the Lions are returning most of their core group, which includes St. Brown, Reynolds, Raymond, Quintez Cephus and most importantly Williams. There’s a ton of excitement surrounding Williams, who appeared in only six games after recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered in the 2021 College Football Playoff championship game. The lone reception of his rookie season was a 41-yard touchdown against Minnesota on Dec. 11, offering glimpses of his playmaking ability. Lions general manager Brad Holmes regards having a healthy Williams as akin to having another first-round pick in 2023.
“Yeah, obviously, we’re expecting big things. … You know, the goal when we originally drafted him, you know, we didn’t know really how much we were going to get out of him, but it was good to have him get some kind of game experience to kind of feel the speed of the game,” Holmes said of Williams during the NFL combine. “But yeah, we’re just going to continue to do everything that we need to do to make sure that he’s set up to succeed.”
Holmes added: “We expect big things from him. He’s got rare talent, rare ability. He’s got a serious passion for the game. We expect big things from him, but obviously, we’ve got to do both our parts to make sure he’s successful.”
Will the Lions do anything this offseason at the position?
Although the receiving corps is well-rounded, the Lions knew they needed to sign — or draft — another guy to stretch the field in the mold of Chark. St. Brown has proved to be most effective in the slot, and Williams will see a bigger role, but adding the versatile Jones fills that need.
Jones, who played the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has 542 career catches for 7,386 yards and 58 touchdowns. Detroit signed Jones to a one-year, $3 million contract that can be worth up to $5 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. He also knows Detroit well, having played for the Lions from 2016 to 2020. He enjoyed his career-best season with Detroit in 2017, posting 1,101 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Holmes said he hasn’t talked to free agent Odell Beckham Jr., but the Lions will certainly explore every option to improve the group, although it’s unlikely they’ll make another huge splash in the receiving corps — through free agency or high in the draft — after getting Jones.
“I’ll say that that’s still a position that we’ll still monitor,” Holmes told reporters during the recent NFL meetings. “You never really can have enough of those guys, just to be honest with you. And just to add more competition, but whether it’s Chark’s skill set or a different flavor, if it’s just the right football player, we’ll definitely continue to monitor that position.”