Early indications seem to suggest that Detroit Lions punt returner Kalif Raymond won’t play in the team’s Wild Card playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams after suffering a knee injury on Sunday. It’s unfortunate timing, as Raymond is coming off his best overall game of the season. Not only did he post 89 return yards on four punts against the Vikings, but he also hauled in a 41-yard pass from Jared Goff.
On Thursday, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp discussed options to replace Raymond, if the veteran returner isn’t able to play against the Rams.
“Guys like (Amon-Ra) St. Brown. Could he do that? It’s possible. He’s been an emergency returner for us all season long,” Fipp said. “Obviously we’ve got Donovan (Peoples-Jones) who did it in Cleveland. So that could be an option. And then you’ve got Mo Alexander on the practice squad if we’re able to get him up it’d be a great option. He’s a great player.”
St. Brown has yet to return a punt for the Lions, but he did it 19 times for the USC Trojans and has the steadiest hands on the team. That said, the Lions may not want to add extra responsibilities to someone who will likely play nearly 100% of the offensive snaps in the game.
Peoples-Jones is the only one of those options who has NFL game experience in that role. He also only has a subpackage role on offense, so he would make the most logical choice of the bunch. Earlier this season with the Browns, Peoples-Jones managed just 84 yards on 13 punt return attempts (6.5 Y/R), but in 2022, he averaged 12.4 yards per return with one touchdown.
Fipp’s inclusion of Maurice Alexander is interesting, as he has not made an NFL appearance this season—spending all year on Detroit’s practice squad. That said, he did return six kickoffs for the team in 2022 and averaged a respectable 24.3 yards per return. Alexander also took a preseason punt to the house this season against the New York Giants:
Notably absent in Fipp’s discussion was second-year receiver Jameson Williams. While the speedster didn’t return punts in college, he had two touchdown on kickoff returns at Alabama. And both during training camp and in pre-game warmups, Williams is oftentimes among the punt return group, snagging punts out of the air.
But Fipp was pretty clear that Williams will not be among their first few options to replace Raymond.
“I see him a little further down the line than those other guys I mentioned,” Fipp said.
We’ll see what the Lions choose to do at the position, but it’s not an insignificant decision. The Rams rank last in the NFL in punt return yard average allowed (15.5), and have given up a pair of punt return touchdowns this season.