The departure of Jamal Agnew in free agency leaves a massive hole for the Detroit Lions at an underrated position: returner.
With touchbacks and coffin kicks becoming more prevalent in the NFL, the value of having a great returner seems to be diminished. However, one great return can provide a much needed spark, and a quick touchdown can instantly turn the tide of the game. In a game of starting field position, having a guy that can manage those few extra yards can be crucial.
Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, the spark provided by Jamal Agnew was often in vain. Agnew scored a tremendous punt return touchdown last season, but with the score being 40-7 against the Buccaneers, celebrating it felt redundant. With a (hopefully) better defense, perhaps the Lions can not only force more punts, but capitalize on some returns.
But who will be that returner?
The candidates for the Lions are not household names, but for fans, they will be worth knowing for the coming months. It’s a fairly open competition, and all it could take is a few great plays in training camp or preseason to win the job.
Kalif Raymond is probably the favorite to win the job, having the most experience as a returner. He was the Titans sole punt returner last season, totaling 208 yards on 23 returns. The Titans’ kick return was more split, with Raymond, Cameron Batson, and Darrynton Evans each totaling over 200 kickoff return yards. Raymond does not have a touchdown so far in his career, nor does he have a return over 45 yards.
Tom Kennedy and Victor Bolden are also vying for the returner role, and both players are hoping to finally break into the starting lineup after being with the team since 2019. Bolden was the primary kick returner for the 49ers during his rookie season of 2017, but he has failed to recapture that role since bouncing around the league. Kennedy, meanwhile, has not returned a single kick during the regular season and could not showcase his skills last year when the preseason was cancelled.
Some of the other options include the rookies Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jermar Jefferson, D’Angelo Amos, Dedrick Mills, and Sage Surratt. St. Brown, the fourth-round pick, is likely a lock for the roster but could provide some additional value as a returner. Of the remaining names, Amos has the most experience as a returner, albeit mainly as a punt returner. Five punt return touchdowns in college ain’t too shabby, and while punt returners don’t always make good kick returners, Amos certainly has some moves. Amos is also a safety, a weak position for the Lions, which could help him make the team.
Who will face the tough task of replacing Jamal Agnew?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Who will be the Lions returner in 2021?
My answer: I think Victor Bolden will win the job.
With no frontrunner for the role, I think another factor will impact who wins the job: positional value. Whereas Jamal Agnew was a returner first and foremost, I think the winner of the returner job will have to showcase skills aside from returning kicks. As mentioned with Amos, I think he has a shot if he can perform well as a safety. However, I think Victor Bolden has the best chance to impress not only as a returner, but as a receiver as well.
Bolden has been one of the first players to get reps at returner, and he has had some good plays at minicamp. Perhaps more importantly, he has stood out on offense, being one of the better performers so far in camp. With such a poor wide receiver group, Bolden could secure himself a role if he continues to shine. At just 5-foot-8, 178 pounds, he isn’t the most physical receiver out there, but his shiftiness would be an asset on special teams and in the slot.
Showcasing his skills in preseason is the next big step for Bolden, but I’ve liked what we’ve seen from him so far.