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Tuesday open thread: Should the Detroit Lions use Jahmyr Gibbs on kick return?

Lions first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs fills avoid at kick returner, but should the Lions risk it?

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Kansas State at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

One of the first thing Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes said after shocking people with the selection of Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs was that they just don’t see him as only a running back.

“It’s not just about, ‘Don’t pick a running back,’ because that’s not really how we view him,” Holmes said.

Many took that statement as a sign that they plan on using Gibbs heavily in the passing game. That’s probably a fair and accurate read of that quote. The Lions offense is obviously heavily influenced by the New Orleans Saints of the past decade, and it’s easy to see how Gibbs’ skillset overlaps with a huge receiving weapon like Alvin Kamara, who 80 catches in each of his first four years in the NFL.

But what if they have even more in store for Gibbs? What if the Lions want a little boost to their returner game?

Last year, the Lions fared quite well in the kick and punt return game. Justin Jackson ranked seventh in the NFL in kick return average (min. 10 attempts) and Kalif Raymond finished third in the NFL. But Jackson did not return for the 2023 season, and Raymond’s season was a pretty big outlier in his career.

Meanwhile, Gibbs has the potential to be an explosive weapon on special teams. His acceleration is absolutely unreal and he comes with three years of kick returner experience. Here’s a taste:

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Should the Lions use Jahmyr Gibbs on kick return?

My answer: Before we get into my answer, let’s address the elephant in the room: would the Lions even consider this? They obviously spent precious resources on Gibbs, so there would be a moderate-to-serious risk putting such a valuable player in harm’s way on special teams, when the typical result for a kick return is a negligible play.

Of course, all we need to do is go back to Jameson Williams last year to prove the Lions would certainly be open to this idea. Detroit was prepared to have Williams be their gunner on their punt team in his NFL debut against the Jaguars—but the team never punted in that game. If they were willing to put Williams—who also just happened to be the 12th overall pick—in that gunner role, even if it was just to get his feet wet, I think it’s fair to say Gibbs as a returner is on the table.

But should they?

On one hand, having a dynamic weapon as your kick returner sounds like a great idea. Guys like Devin Hester and Dante Hall were absolute game-changers. And right now, the Lions don’t really have a ton of experienced options.

But that era of elite kick returns seems like a thing of the past. Rule changes have made it easy to avoid a nasty kick returner—just kick it out of the endzone. And with touchbacks being moved up from the 20 to 25-yard line back in 2016, many returning teams are just fine with that trade off.

So, no, I don’t think using Gibbs as a kick returner would necessarily be worth it. He’s also a small back. Subjecting him to unnecessary, high-speed hits on a play that is having a smaller and smaller impact on the game is probably not wise.

That said, knowing this coaching staff as well as I do, I certainly think it’s a conversation they have had and may be willing to seriously consider when the regular season rolls around. So don’t be surprised if they actually do it.

Your turn.


Should the Lions use Jahmyr Gibbs on kick return?

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