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Friday open thread: Who will be the Detroit Lions’ kick returner in 2019?

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Who will win the KR job in Detroit?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

One reason to be excited about Detroit Lions football is the return of Jamal Agnew. The Lions’ All-Pro punt returner saw his second season cut drastically short due to a knee injury, and his once-electric play in his rookie season resulted in just 12 punt returns in 2018 for a measly 57 yards.

While Agnew’s hold on the punt return job isn’t quite as firm due to Detroit’s sudden depth in the secondary, it’s safe to say he’s the heavy favorite for the job in 2019.

But what about kick returner?

Last year, the Lions couldn’t really decide on who their kick returner was. Agnew took back eight kickoffs, while TJ Jones, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Powell and Luke Willson all had at least two. No one was particularly inspiring with their performance, either. Agnew had the best average with 27.0 yards per kick return, largely bolstered by a 45-yard return.

So today’s Question of the Day is:

Who will be the Lions’ kick returner in 2019?

My answer: During OTAs and minicamp, I didn’t see a ton of diversity in the players being used at the kick return position. I saw a lot of usage of Jamal Agnew and Danny Amendola at the position, with a little bit of Deontez Alexander mixed in.

Here’s a look at the stat breakdown of each player as a kick returner in their respective careers:

Jamal Agnew: 19 returns, 412 yards, 21.7 avg.
Danny Amendola: 152 returns, 3,575 yards, 23.5 avg.
Deontez Alexander: N/A

It’s worth noting that Amendola has only returned six kickoffs in his past three years. The majority of his kick returns came in his first two years in the league, in which he returned 116 kickoffs for 2,760 yards for an average of 23.8 yards per kick.

The kickoff is a lot different now because of intrusive new rules, and both Amendola and Alexander have no experience with this redefined kick.

But let’s talk about the new kickoff for a moment. The rules have become so restrictive that teams are barely returning kicks at all. Last year, Detroit only had a total of 20 kickoff returns. And while it’s possible that teams will be a little more confident and bold with their kickoff strategy this year now that they have had time to analyze the effect of the new rules, we’re still talking about a position that will only be important for two or three plays a game.

So if a player is going to win the kickoff return position, he better provide something else to the team. The Lions are not going to waste a roster spot on a kick returner alone. So what do each of these players offer elsewhere?

Jamal Agnew, as we stated before, will likely be the team’s punt returner, and he’s been repping as the backup nickel cornerback at OTAs and minicamp. Though Detroit has good depth at nickel—especially if they want to bring a safety into that role—Agnew’s job seems pretty safe at the moment, and he provides good value.

Danny Amendola is the team’s starting slot receiver. His spot on the roster is as safe as anyone’s. The question, simply, is whether Detroit wants to risk Amendola’s health on a kickoff play he has barely participated in for the past three years. At 33 years old, it doesn’t seem like the smartest of ideas.

As for Alexander, there’s always a chance the lengthy and speedy receiver makes a run as the WR4 or 5—if the Lions keep that many—but it’s hard to see his value on the team going beyond that.

But let’s talk about one more candidate: sixth-round pick Ty Johnson. Johnson was dynamic as a kick returner at Maryland. In his final two years, Johnson returned 41 kicks for 1,038 yards (25.3 avg.) and two touchdowns.

The question, again, comes down to his value elsewhere. Johnson will have to prove he’s worthy of surpassing someone like Theo Riddick or Zach Zenner on the running back depth chart, because it doesn’t make sense for the Lions to carry a fifth running back—and keep him active on gameday—simply for one or two returns in a game. That’s a tough ask for a rookie, so I’m not banking on it.

So put that all together, and the choice seems clear to me. Jamal Agnew should be the team’s kick returner, even if he has shown he’s much better at punt returning.

Your turn.

Poll

Who should be the team’s kick returner in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Jamal Agnew
    (214 votes)
  • 1%
    Danny Amendola
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Deontez Alexander
    (2 votes)
  • 54%
    Ty Johnson
    (278 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (13 votes)
514 votes total Vote Now