The good: When the Lions drafted Jamal Agnew in the fifth round of last year’s draft, he had some punt return experience. He was given an opportunity to compete to fill that void in the offseason and training camp.
Agnew ended up being a first-team All-Pro punt returner as a rookie. He led the NFL in punt return yards (447), average (15.4) and touchdowns (2).
His 15.4 punt return average ranked fourth all time in Lions’ single-season history.
It's pretty safe to say the Lions have their punt returner of the foreseeable future in Agnew.
Veteran kicker Matt Prater had another fine season in 2017. He finished with 130 points on the season, joining Jason Hanson as the only players to accomplish that feat in team history. He became the first player in franchise history to make 30 field goals in back-to-back seasons.
His game winner against Tampa Bay was the 14th of his career with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter or overtime. Prater's made 20 game-winning or game-tying kicks over his career with under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter or overtime.
The bad: Veteran punter Sam Martin suffered an ankle injury away from the facility in early July that cost him all of training camp and the first six games of the season. That time is crucial for kickers and punters, as they ramp up their activity and get their timing down.
Martin was never the same when he returned midseason after missing that crucial period in the season. He finished with career lows in punting average (43.4) and net punting average (37.6). He set career highs in average (48.5) and net (44.2) the year prior in 2016.
The Lions were very good on punt returns, but kickoff return was a weakness. The Lions averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return, which ranked last in the NFL. Detroit had just one kickoff return of 30-plus yards all year long.
Key stat: Agnew joined Hall of Fame cornerback Jack Christiansen (4 in 1951) as the only rookies in team history to return at least two punts for touchdowns.
Free agents: LS Don Muhlbach (unrestricted), S Don Carey (unrestricted), P Kasey Redfrrn (exclusive rights)
As long as Muhlbach wants to continue his career for a 15th season in 2018, I don’t see why the Lions won’t let him.
The team will eventually have to groom a replacement. Who knows, it could be this offseason, but Muhlbach’s had to compete for his job before, and the former Pro Bowler always seems to find a way to come out on top.
Carey was second on the team with nine special teams tackles in 2017, and continues to be one of the best gunners in the game.
Redfern suffered a torn ACL Week 1 of the regular season. The Lions always have two punters on the roster in the offseason so they don't wear Martin's leg out, but will Redfern be ready to kick by the time the offseason training program begins?
Draft: Prater got an extension this past season, and Martin received one the season before. They are Detroit’s kicker and punter for the foreseeable future. Agnew is the guy returning punts.
Lions GM Bob Quinn drafted Jimmy Landes in the sixth round in 2016 to compete with Muhlbach for the long snapper job, but Muhlbach won that job rather convincingly. Maybe Quinn brings in someone else to compete again.
Agnew could return kickoffs next year, but the Lions could also put a young player back there from this year’s draft class. Remember they did so with Ameer Abdullah as a rookie, and he was one of the league's best kick returners that year. That looks to be the only real job available on special teams heading into the offseason.
MVP: There would certainly be no argument if Agnew was the choice here, but in terms of impact from a week-to-week basis, Prater is such a weapon for this football team.
His consistency and long-range leg give the Lions an opportunity to score as soon as they reach an opponent’s 40-yard line. He made 30-of-35 field goals this season and 40-of-41 extra points. He was 7-of-11 from 50-plus yards this season.
Quotable: “If it wasn’t for what happened, obviously, I had every intention of having a huge season this year,” Martin said after the season.
“I was feeling great in OTAs. It just derailed me a little bit, but as far as going into next season, it’s not even a thought in my mind I’m not going to be back to myself in August."