With news that the Detroit Lions are preparing to be without All Pro punt returner Jamal Agnew for the long term, the team is now facing an interesting dilemma. Prior to Week 5, Agnew was handling both the kick and punt return duties, as well as picking up a significant portion of defensive snaps, and even a couple of offensive plays, as well. The man did a heck of a lot for a 2017 fifth-round pick, which, unfortunately, means the Lions will have to rely on several players to pick up the slack.
But for today, let’s just focus on his special teams contributions and who may help take over in both returning spots. On Sunday, Ameer Abdullah—active for the first time all year—took over as the team’s kick returner, but it’s unclear if that will continue to be his job going forward. It seems odd to keep five running backs (including fullback) active on gameday, especially since they only kept three active last year.
So today’s Question of the Day is:
Who should the Lions’ kick and punt returner be with Jamal Agnew out?
I’m going to break this down by potential options
Ameer Abdullah - Abdullah seems like the most logical choice here for kick returner, not only because he was there against the Packers, but because he was pretty darn good as the team’s kick returner in 2015—averaging 29.1 yards per return. The question here is whether Abdullah would be worth an active spot on the roster. If Kerryon Johnson misses any time, this is a no-brainer, but if not, five active running backs is honestly a poor use of roster space. Additionally, Abdullah doesn’t provide any value as a punt returner. He hasn’t returned a punt since his sophomore year in college.
TJ Jones - Jones has 10 kick returns to his name as a Lion and averaged a respectable, but not fantastic 21.1 yards per kick. Jones is an interesting option, because he not only could take over punt return duties, but he won’t take up an extra gameday roster spot—Jones has been active in every game this year, and offers offensive potential, as well.
One reason why I think roster management is a big factor here is because the Lions have only returned seven kickoffs this year. If we’re being completely honest, kick returner is a dying position right now, and it’s not worth a roster spot alone.
Brandon Powell - Powell has been sitting on the team’s roster all year, but has yet to be active for a single game. In the preseason and training camp, Powell’s speed was on full display, and he looked to be the team’s second-best returner behind Agnew. However, activating him would mean someone else would ride the bench, and I don’t think Powell would provide much of anything outside of special teams.
Golden Tate - Tate probably wouldn’t take over kick return duties, but he’s shown himself to be valuable as a punt return guy. Over the course of his career, he’s returned 90 punts for an average of 10.7 yards per return. There’s an obvious injury risk in putting Tate back there, but he’s clearly the team’s most experienced option and he won’t use up that extra roster spot.
I’m all about using your roster spots efficiently, and considering the new kickoff rules have all but ended kick returns in Detroit, I don’t think it’s worth adding another player to the gameday roster for that alone. Brandon Powell could do both punt and kick return duties, but I still don’t think it’s worth it.
Have TJ Jones take a knee for kickoffs, and roll the dice with Tate as the punt returner (it’s not like the Lions are forcing that many punts, either—they only have seven returns on the year).