The Good: Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said last offseason he wanted to see the team sign a receiver in free agency and draft one high to boost the competition in the Detroit receiver room. GM Brad Holmes obliged by signing veteran DJ Chark and drafting Jameson Williams No. 12 overall.
Chark missed six games due to an ankle injury, but when he returned, he was everything from a deep threat the Lions hoped he would be. We saw flashes from Williams down the stretch after he returned for the final six games for there to be a lot of excitement surrounding his 2023 campaign.
Second-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a budding superstar after catching 106 passes for his first 1,000-yard season (1,161). Kalif Raymond had a career-high 616 receiving yards on 47 receptions (13.1 average) and was named Second Team All Pro as a punt returner. Veteran Josh Reynolds finished with 38 receptions and three touchdowns.
The Lions' passing offense finished the season ranked seventh in the NFL and generated 57 pass plays of 20-plus yards, tied for the fifth most in the NFL this season.
Lions receivers also contributed to Detroit's success on the ground. St. Brown (95), Williams (40) and Raymond (36) combined for 171 rushing yards, the most in franchise history.
The Lions have a lot of versatility and playmaking ability at the position. And with St. Brown, Williams, Raymond and Reynolds all under contract next season, and Chark (unrestricted free agent) saying he'd like to return, this unit should continue to be a strength for the Lions' offense in 2023.
The bad: This includes all pass catchers and not just the receivers, but the Lions saw their dropped passes and percentage of drops on catchable passes increase significantly from 2021 to 2022. This season the Lions dropped 23 passes, up from 13 in 2021, and saw their drop percentage rise from 3.2 percent in 2021 to 6.1 percent this past season.
This next one isn't necessarily bad, but worth mentioning: This is a big offseason for Williams heading into his second season. Coming back for the last six games after rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in college, there was a lack of chemistry with quarterback Jared Goff, which is somewhat expected. Goff and Williams connected on just one of their nine targets, though the one was a 40-yard touchdown (Williams also had a 66-yard touchdown called back in Week 18).
"I hoped it would click just a little bit faster than it has," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said before Detroit's final game in Green Bay of the Goff to Williams connection. "I think we all have, but it takes time sometimes and we're not losing faith. We're going to keep pressing it and it'll end up clicking. At some point he'll have a big game and, OK, that's why. That's why we took him where we took him and that's why he can help us so much."
Key stat: St. Brown completed his first two NFL seasons with 196 receptions, which ties Justin Jefferson (2020-21) and Michael Thomas (2016-17) for the most receptions an NFL player has logged through the first two seasons of their career.
MVP: St. Brown
One of the most efficient receivers in the game today, St. Brown finished sixth among the league's receivers in receptions per game (6.6), fourth in first down receptions (68), fourth in yards after the catch (532) and seventh in total receptions (106).
St. Brown does everything the right way, which includes being one of the best run-blocking receivers. He tough, savvy, and is quickly becoming the best slot receiver in the game today.
Most improved: Raymond
Raymond has established himself as one of the best punt returners in the NFL, but he was also a significant contributor on offense, finishing the year with five games with over 50 receiving yards. He was Detroit's second-leading receiver in yards with a career-high 616. He made some huge third-down receptions and proved to be a dependable and reliable target for Goff all year.
Free agents: Chark (unrestricted)
Chark missed that stretch of six games early in the year but came back strong the second half and proved to be a real threat in this offense. He averaged 16.7 yards per reception on 30 receptions with three touchdowns. He's a terrific deep threat and 50-50 ball receiver at 6-foot-4 with 4.3 speed.
Chark has said he'd like to return to Detroit, and we'll see if that's in the cards once free agency starts. Other top veteran receivers scheduled to hit free agency include: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Kansas City), Jakobi Meyers (New England), Mecole Hardman (Kansas City) and Allen Lazard (Green Bay).
Draft: The Lions could look to continue to add young talent via the NFL Draft, whether the Lions re-sign Chark or any other veteran receiver in free agency or not.
The way the college game is played nowadays, we are seeing young receivers come into the league and have an immediate impact. The Lions aren't likely to address the position high in the draft, but Day 2 or Day 3 is certainly a possibility if Holmes' board falls that way.
Some receivers in this year's draft to keep an eye on are: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee), Rashee Rice (SMU), Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State) and Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss).
Quotable: "I don't think that's really anywhere close to where this kid's going to go," Holmes said of Williams after the season. "I mean, he made some big plays, and he had some flashes, but the other thing about Jameson, he's just a football player, man. That dude just wants to be out there on the football field, man, that's just – that's how he's wired. That's how he is.
"But I don't think anything he did this year is anywhere remotely close to where he's going to go. 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. I've 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. So, I think he's going to be just fine."