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Free agent profile: With opportunity, Kalif Raymond proved in a pinch he belongs

The Lions had an early-season need for a wide receiver to step up—Kalif Raymond made the most of his opportunity.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Today’s entry in this offseason series that chronicles the impending free agency of Detroit Lions from the 2021 season takes us back to the wide receiver position.

Plenty of speculation about who the Lions might target to bolster their wide receiver depth will surely continue in the weeks leading up to free agency and then the NFL Draft, especially after Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El cracked a smile at the Senior Bowl and shared how he would address the team’s need at wideout.

But Detroit has some decisions to make internally before they start their search for new talent to infuse into the position group—and last offseason Brad Holmes may have found just the right versatile piece to keep around in Detroit.

Previous free agent profiles: Charles Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tim Boyle, Alex Anzalone, Tracy Walker, Josh Reynolds, KhaDarel Hodge, Nick Williams, and Dean Marlowe.

Kalif Raymond

Expectations heading into 2021

No position in Detroit underwent a more drastic turnover last offseason than the wide receiver room. After choosing to let Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Jamal Agnew, and Mohamed Sanu all move on from Detroit, Brad Holmes spent the offseason restocking the wide receiver depth chart. He quickly signed Tyrell Williams to a one-year deal, and then followed that up by adding Breshad Perriman to the fold. A couple of things were clear from those two deals: the Lions were not only prioritizing speed and separation at the position, but they were doing it without making any long-term commitments.

Shortly after the Perriman deal, Holmes added his third wideout in free agency when he signed Kalif Raymond. Initially, Raymond was thought to be a replacement of sorts for what Detroit was going to lose with the departure of Agnew. He certainly fit the bill as another speedster being added to the mix, but he also brought experience as a returner on special teams.

Raymond played limited snaps on offense in the two years prior with the Tennessee Titans, so signing with the receiver-starved Lions looked like an opportunity for him to showcase what he flashed when he averaged 20.8 and 21.5 yards per reception in 2020 and 2019 respectively. That opportunity grew before the season even started when the Lions released Perriman before he even played a regular-season snap in Detroit.

Actual role in 2021

16 games (14 starts): 71 targets, 48 receptions, 576 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns. Four carries for 28 rushing yards. 21 punt returns for 236 yards—long of 48 yards.

PFF grade: 60.5 (85th out of 94 qualifying wide receivers—at least 20% of 230 targets)

Injuries hit the Lions hard and fast at the start of the season and the wide receiver position wasn’t an exception. Williams caught just two passes in the team’s season opener before he suffered a concussion. The injury landed Williams on injured reserve, and he was later waived with an injury settlement. Quintez Cephus suffered a broken collarbone in Week 5 against Minnesota and never returned in 2021. In short, it didn’t take long for the Lions to turn to Raymond as one of their primary receivers.

Raymond’s 2021 season was a career year by just about every measure. He played more snaps, earned more targets, caught more passes, and tallied more receiving yards than he did in the first four seasons of his career combined. While he was prominent and productive in spots, there were three games he started where he failed to record a catch—earning just four targets combined in those contests. Regardless of his sometimes sporadic usage and production, Raymond was fourth in both targets and receptions for Detroit by the season’s end. Aside from his offensive contributions, he was the team’s primary punt returner when he suited up for games.

Outlook for 2022

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Now that Raymond has proven he’s a contributor at wide receiver and more than just a one-trick pony as a deep threat—or a return specialist—it will be interesting to see how other teams may value him. When he signed with Detroit, how much playing time Raymond would receive was a big question mark considering the names in front of him. To his credit, the former Holy Cross UDFA stepped up in a pinch and played in a bigger spot than he ever had before in the NFL.

Just bringing Raymond back doesn’t assuage Detroit’s need for more talent at wide receiver. Brad Holmes and Co. will certainly cross their t’s and dot their i’s when it comes to studying this deep class of wide receiver talent available in the 2022 NFL Draft—and there are certainly a host of intriguing, big-name options in free agency should Holmes decide to make a splash. Raymond, however, could prove to be a dependable depth piece for the Lions moving forward. He also provides special teams value as a returner, making him an even more valuable and cost-effective option should Detroit be interested in re-signing the veteran.


Should the Lions re-sign Kalif Raymond?

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