For all the weakness of the Detroit Lions roster, one that has flown under the radar is at returner.
Jamal Agnew, the former All-Pro corner-turned-receiver, left for the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason on a sizable three-year, $14.25 million contract. With five return touchdowns to his name, Agnew is an exciting piece that will be missed in Detroit. The Lions have made some moves thus far, but the question remains if they might invest more in the upcoming draft. The Lions signed Kalif Raymond, the Tennessee Titans’ primary returner in 2020, but with modest career success, he is no lock for the position. If the Lions want to upgrade the position, the draft is a good way to do it.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Should the Lions draft a return specialist?
My answer: I think the Lions should draft a returner, but not a return specialist—there is a key difference.
Jamal Agnew is a return specialist. This means that most of his contributions on the football team are as a kick or punt returner. Despite multiple attempts across multiple seasons, Agnew could not establish himself as a reliable option on offense or defense. When the Lions drafted him, he was drafted as a return specialist, and him developing into a slot corner would have been a bonus. Raymond falls into this category as well. With 19 catches across his five year career so far, he is far from being a threat on offense.
The Lions wide receiver group is extremely thin, and I believe they should draft a player whose primary skillset is receiving, as opposed to a specialist whose primary skillset is returning. The Lions have many holes across the roster, and it would seem like a luxury to draft a player that can only contribute on special teams. Additionally, the Lions do not have a sixth or seventh round pick, which would be a reasonable time to draft a pure return specialist. With how rarely punt and kick returners touch the ball nowadays, the value might not be there for Detroit. Agnew had just 14 punt returns and 28 kick returns in 2020, and that number of kick returns is a byproduct of the Lions giving up a massive 65 touchdowns on defense.
Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are perfect examples of star receivers that can act as returners. Much like Tyreek Hill in his early seasons, they can contribute on offense and special teams in a significant way. Later on in the draft, players like Kadarius Toney, Elijah Moore, D’Wayne Eskridge, and Amari Rodgers can fill the void in the slot and as a returner. This draft does have some good Agnew replacements like Dazz Newsome or Avery Williams as primarily return specialists, but their ceiling as contributors on offense or defense remains questionable.
I would much rather acquire a player that can impress outside of special teams. If that player develops into a good returner, excellent. If not, then either Raymond or a future free agent or undrafted rookie can take the reins.