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Lions draft Q&A: Jamal Agnew’s speed makes him a dangerous return man

The USD Vista gives us a lesson on the Lions fifth-round draft choice.

NCAA Football: San Diego at San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Hi there. I’m Mike Payton. you might remember me from such player Q&A’s as “I want you back, The Andre Fluellen story,” or “Dining with Mike Williams.” Today I come to you to talk about the Lions fifth-round draft choice, Jamal Agnew.

I’ll be honest, people, when I saw the tickets to San Diego come across my desk, I was initially quite hesitant. After all, San Diego is a big part of what wound up being the craziest weekend of my life.

In one weekend, I was the only witness to a man’s death, I almost went to prison in Mexico, I saw a shirtless greased up bouncer and my car got broken into. Needless to say, I was scared to go back.

Because of this, Reisman let me just make a few phone calls and send some emails. After some searching, I was able to find Matthew Roberson. The sports editor of the University of San Diego’s newspaper, The USD Vista. Here’s what he had to say about his schoolmate.

POD: What are your thoughts on Agnew’s time at San Diego?

USDV: “Agnew is probably the most accomplished player of the post-Jim Harbaugh era here at USD. He holds the school record for pass breakups and during his sophomore year he was the FCS leader in passes defended at 2.1 per game. After that, quarterbacks definitely stopped throwing his way so often, which hurt his numbers a little bit. He's an unbelievably hard worker who managed to remain humble as his draft stock rose this year. I've known Jamal personally since we were both freshmen, and you really could not find a nicer guy on this campus. We were at the same Super Bowl party this year and I remember talking to him about Chris Hogan, the Patriots wide receiver. Hogan played at Monmouth, a school similar in size to USD. I think seeing a guy like Hogan play in the Super Bowl lit a fire under Jamal, while also showing him firsthand that guys from any school can make it in the league. He surely won't be one of those rookies who thinks that getting drafted is the tip of the iceberg. I think he sees being drafted as the first step up the mountain, rather than the summit.”

POD: What are his strengths?

USDV: “I'd say he has many strengths. His biggest strength is probably his ball skills. I mean, you don't become the leading pass defender in school history without being able to play the ball well. During his junior year, USD played San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium. Jamal had two pass breakups and an interception in his only game against D-I competition. He's also very instinctual and can diagnose plays well. You can see it in the first two plays in this video from the team's playoff game against Cal Poly.”

“On that first one, he keeps his eyes on the QB the whole time and then fires his gun immediately to blow up the running back behind the line of scrimmage. Then, as I'm sure Lion fans are keenly aware of now, he's also very fast, which is a strength at any level.”

POD: What are his weaknesses?

USDV: “You'd really be hard pressed to find a weakness, which I think is largely a product of him going up against inferior competition all the time in the Pioneer Football League. I'm not sure if you can say size is a weakness, but that might be his greatest one. He's 5'10" and 180 lbs, so I think the best NFL comparison in terms of size is probably someone like Antoine Winfield. There will definitely be a learning curve for Jamal, especially if he gets moved to nickel and has to cover slot receivers. But like I said, he's more than willing to learn and certainly dedicated to improving himself over these next few years.”

POD: 4. As you know, Agnew is blazing fast. Do you see him being primarily used as a return man early in his career? Or should the Lions keep him focused on corner duties?

USDV: “I think the Lions should certainly give him a chance to return kicks. His speed, I think, is the one surefire thing that will translate to the NFL. His speed also makes him an interesting prospect as a gunner if the Lions are willing to do that. He showed in college that he's an outstanding cover corner on the outside, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lions use him primarily on special teams during this first year. He may need some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of NFL wide receivers, whose skill level will be vastly ahead of the guys he was covering in college.”

My Thoughts

After I studied up on Agnew on my own, I determined that as far as his coverage skills go, he’ll be a developmental project for the Lions. What Bob Quinn really had in mind for Agnew, is that return spot. Just look what he can do as a punt returner in this video.

You can teach a guy to play corner, but you can’t teach speed. Agnew has that in spades. He also has the ability to know when to juke and the foresight to find holes. Look for Agnew to be the Lions new Andre Roberts... only better.

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