In the lead-up to the 2015 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions brought in several return specialists for visits. Most of those return specialists also played wide receiver, and the thinking was that the Lions could improve their depth at that position while also upgrading their return game.
As it turns out, the Lions did not draft any of those return specialists. They did take running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round, and he has the ability to be a returner, but he was selected for his skills on offense more than anything.
Perhaps help could still be on the way for the return game, though. The Lions have already given several different players a look at returner during OTAs, and now they are bringing in free agent Brad Smith for a visit on Tuesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Smith is technically a receiver, but he's definitely better known for his contributions on special teams. He only caught one pass for 11 yards in 13 games for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, for example, but he contributed quite a bit on their coverage units. He only returned one kick last season in Philadelphia, but going back to his days with the Buffalo Bills from 2011-12 and the New York Jets from 2006-10, he was pretty effective as a kick returner, averaging 25.7 yards and scoring four touchdowns.
If the Lions sign Smith, he could potentially be used in a number of different ways. His versatility is really his biggest strength considering he played quarterback in college, is excellent on special teams and has nearly as many career yards rushing (972) as career yards receiving (987) in the NFL. In other words, in addition to having a shot at winning the kick returner job and contributing on other special teams units, Smith could potentially get work on offense as well both as a receiver and a runner.
Even if the Lions do add Smith to their roster, there's no guarantee he will survive the final round of cuts after the preseason. However, if nothing else, having a player with Smith's skill set around could make the camp competition a lot more interesting at various positions.