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Kalif Raymond: The NFL’s most underrated receiver?

Don’t laugh. One stat shows that Kalif Raymond is one of the most underrated and underappreciated receivers in the NFL.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I know, I know. The title of this article seems a little hot-takey. Kalif Raymond, currently fourth or fifth on the Detroit Lions receiver depth chart, is the most underrated receiver in the NFL? Certainly, a ridiculous statement.

However, a few data analysts over at PFF made a statistical discovery that I promise will have your jaw on the floor by the time you see it. It all started with the “PFF Forecast Pod,” a podcast hosted by George Chahrouri, Brad Spielberger, and Judah Fortgang. The three took turns naming who they thought were the most underrated receivers in the NFL. Forgang was the first to bring up Raymond.

“This is a guy who is elite in our separation metrics,” Fortgang said. “You’re looking at the names: Stefon Diggs and Cooper Kupp and Garrett Wilson and Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, CeeDee Lamb. Right up there with them is Kalif Raymond.”

If you think comparing Raymond’s separation ability with some of the best NFL receivers in the league is ridiculous, hold onto your hats. That’s just the beginning. Fortgang is actually being modest. He’s not just right up there with those players. He absolutely blows them—and every other NFL receiver—out of the water in PFF’s separation metric from last season.

Take a look.

And before you go calling this a weird statistical anomaly or giving all the credit to Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Fortgang insists that Raymond has always been a high performer in this metric.

“This is not a guy who is like a fluke, one-off thing,” he continued. “He’s been doing this every year that he has enough snaps to qualify on our leaderboard, and he was No. 1 in our separation metric. This is a guy who is absolutely elite separating in man. It’ll be very interesting to see if he can kind of jump on this opportunity, as we talked about, the vacuum of targets for the Lions. Definitely one I’m interested in, and this dude absolutely pops kinda out of nowhere.”

Spielberger—who also had Raymond on his list of underrated receivers—noted how he’s seen a little something underappreciated about Raymond dating all the way back to his days with the Tennessee Titans.

I wrote an article about him in 2021 in free agency. He was a restricted free agent, but they didn’t tender him, and I was like, ‘Why did the Titans not give a tender to Kalif Raymond?’” Spielberger said. “You gotta kinda strip the sample size down if you go that far back, but (from 2019-20) he was sixth in yards per reception on the sixth-longest ADOT (average depth of target). He was, like you said, just an explosive player.”

Of course, this doesn’t even bring up the fact that Raymond made second-team All-Pro last year as a punt returner.

Lions coaches have frequently praised Raymond for his professionalism and his importance to the team. And coach Dan Campbell recently talked about just how huge he’ll be during Jameson Williams’ six-game suspension to start the season.

“Leaf is our Iron Man, particularly in that room,” Campbell said. “He is a guy that has been there for us and when we have needed him, he has always shown up. And I mean, Leaf and I talked about this, last year part of the plan was he was going to be a specialized player for us. He was going to get 15 reps a game. He is our starting punt returner. And it was (how) we’re going to utilize him. Keep him fresh.

“But (we were) able to use his explosiveness, because he is explosive. Well shoot man, the injuries we had, he got thrust back into really a starting role for us. And he can play all of the positions. He can play the X, he can play the slot, he can play the Z. He is smart. He is tough. He is heads-y. He is a go-getter. He is resilient. He is a huge asset for us. Thank God we have him. So, he will be big for us while Jamo is out.”

Over the past two years in Detroit, Raymond actually second in receiving yards for the Lions with 1,192. In 2022, he set a career-high 616 yards. It is probably safe to say that he is even underrated locally for just how important he’s been over the last two seasons with the Lions.

You can watch PFF’s entire conversation below. They start talking about Raymond around the 24:35 mark:

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