ALLEN PARK — The Lions haven’t formally announced an update on Jamal Agnew’s knee injury, but indications are that it is likely a serious setback and could be season-ending.
That’s the vibe that special teams coach Joe Marciano gave on the Tuesday of the bye week, stating that his team would need to have a serious discussion about who the punt returner will be going forward. He said he expects the answer to come from what is already on Detroit’s roster.
He wouldn’t be easy to replace, one year after he led the league in return average and touchdowns en route to an All-Pro selection, all as a fifth-round rookie. But the Lions clearly need to make a decision on who the backup punt returner would be regardless of Agnew’s prognosis.
They have a few options to sort through:
Brandon Powell hasn’t been active yet this season, as the Lions seem intent on saving the undrafted rookie receiver for something. He did electrify on a punt return in the preseason, taking one back 80 yards in the dress-rehearsal preseason game against the Buccaneers. At 5 feet 8 inches and and 181 pounds, he is small but shifty. He took 17 punt returns at the University of Florida and turned those into 61 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per return.
Golden Tate has the most NFL experience returning punts, with 90 career returns for 959 yards, or an average of 10.7 yards. His last year with much volume doing it was 2015, when he fielded 20 punts for the Lions. His ability to make players miss with the ball in his hands is well-documented as the team’s high-volume slot receiver, but that means any extra workload could threaten his health for that primary role.
Ameer Abdullah stepped in as the team’s kick returner on Sunday, taking one back for 30 yards. He last returned punts his first two years at Nebraska, when he turned 31 attempts into 316 yards, or an average of 10.2 yards. He does have a history of putting the ball on the ground at times as a running back, with seven career fumbles. The Lions could make him the punt and kick returner to help with roster flexibility on game day.
TJ Jones has fielded 13 punt returns as a Lion, including six last year after Agnew got hurt. He has averaged 8.2 yards on those returns. He is the team’s fourth receiver, and this would give him a more substantial role to contribute on while being active on game days.
Which of these options would you prefer to back up Agnew?