The Lions found something special in the 4th round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Amon-Ra St. Brown might not have had huge buzz around him coming out, but he has great body control, is tough as nails, attacks the ball in the air, and is already starting to tie things together with his route running. St. Brown does a lot of the things you want out of your slot receiver, but the Lions move him around in the backfield, outside, and most importantly, cut his split and use him as a blocker in the run game.
St. Brown has zero fear and takes no plays off. He plays with exactly the kind of intensity that Dan Campbell preaches. What’s more, he’s a legitimate plus in the blocking game – even when he’s matched up with defensive ends and linebackers.
His physicality and ability to block on the edge or tight to the formation is a huge benefit to the offense. He routinely locks up defenders regardless of size and helps create explosive play opportunities in the run game. You are never going to see St. Brown shy away from a block or from sticking his nose into a pile and helping the offense gain yards.
Using blocking to get open
His utility as a blocker helps in the run game, but it also helps him with his releases and how Detroit can ultimately use him. Since he frequently lines up in the slot and a condensed split, the Lions will use him to crunch across the formation in some of their boot action plays.
While they don’t actually ask him to kick on defensive ends very often, he’s more than willing to put his body on the line and block those guys if needed. With his ability to block, he can develop into guys like Robert Woods, Allen Lazard, or Deebo Samuel who are integral parts of both the run game and the play-action pass game for their teams.
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s blocking allows him to work in all the staples of the Shanahan-style offense. One of those staples is Y-Leak – usually run by a tight end. On Y-leak, the tight end blocks like they normally would on outside zone and the subsequent boot action. Instead of bouncing back out to the boot side, they continue along the line of scrimmage and pop out the other side of the formation. It’s a common shot play in the system and it doesn’t work if you’re not an actual blocking threat. In place of a tight end, the Lions have St. Brown in a tight split.
Linebackers, corners, and safeties, all know that St. Brown will block and block with intensity. When they see him working down the line to try and cutoff the end or go to a linebacker, it looks like a normal play. Then, he has the speed to turn it on and wheel up the opposite sideline for a potential big gain. The action of the boot and Sail concept the other way pulls defenders, and gives the Lions an opportunity for a touchdown.
Kyle Shanahan’s Play-Action Scheme
Lining up at running back
The Lions don’t run Amon-Ra St. Brown, but in the same vein as Deebo Samuel, they do put him in the backfield a couple times a game to create advantageous matchups. Those mismatches can be lethal. His route tree out of the backfield isn’t super diverse at this point and it’s a clear pass indicator, but that hasn’t really stopped it from being effective. St. Brown has run Texas routes, option routes, and flares, which have all gotten him on linebackers and allowed him to use his twitchiness and agility to get into space and beat players that are guarding him at depth.
As a pure receiver, he has the tools to be a valuable slot guy. He’s not going to run by anyone, but he’s quick out of his cuts, understands how to find the soft spot in zones, and is starting to use more route technique to get himself open outside of scheme. Like his blocking, St. Brown isn’t afraid to play physically within his route. If defenders try to engage through his stem, he’ll often use a chicken wing technique where he leans into the contact and extends to create momentum the opposite direction.
Where he’s really shown some flashes is with the use of his eyes. Lined up as the #2 at the bottom of the screen, St. Brown slide releases outside to widen his defender and create more space. As the defender widens with him, St. Brown knows that he has won his inside release. That means that it is likely that the defender is going to reach to try and stay with him once he takes his route inside. He quickly removes the defender’s hands and now has that player in a trail position. As he gets to the top of his route, he turns his head the opposite way of his break. That helps keep separation and threatens the defender the opposite direction.
The series of techniques he used to get open there are really good signs of progress and potential. He attacked leverage, defeated a jam, and then used his eyes to help create separation.
Amon-Ra St. Brown is turning into a steal for the Lions. For a 4th round rookie, he’s shown some nice flashes and forced his way onto the field with his ability to block and create mismatches in the backfield. It’s clear the Lions feel the same way. They’re finding ways to get him the ball and involve him in the offense. He might not be there yet, but he’s an absolute culture changer for the Detroit receiving room and brings physicality and juice when he’s on the field. The Lions have a little ways to go, but if they keep adding pieces that are unselfish and bring intensity whenever they’re on the field, they might not be on the bottom for long.