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2017 training camp preview: Kick and punt return

On the roster: Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Dwayne Washington, Keshawn Martin, Jared Abbrederis, Jace Billingsley, Jamal Agnew

Key loss: Andre Roberts

Best competition: Who return kickoffs and punts for the Lions in 2017?

There is no shortage of candidates, that's for sure.

Andre Roberts signing in Atlanta in free agency has given an opportunity for one or more players to step up earn the role in Detroit this season. Roberts averaged 12.3 yards per punt return last season and returned two for touchdowns. He also averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff return. That's quite a bit of production to try and fill.

The opening might just allow a backup player fighting for a roster spot an opportunity at roster security, at least at the beginning of the season. Players like Billingsley, Abbrederis or Martin could find that winning one of either the punt or kickoff return duties propels them past others when deciding which backup receivers make the 53-man roster.

There's also the chance that Tate, Jones, Washington or Agnew, all players expected to be among the initial 53 players on the roster at this point, earns one or both of the roles.

2016 stats
Golden Tate 88 936 10.6 0 5 93 18.6 0
TJ Jones 7 59 8.4 0 5 106 21.2 0
Dwayne Washington 0 0 0.0 0 2 46 23.0 0
Keshawn Martin 94 858 9.1 1 80 2,001 25.0 0
Jared Abbrederis 0 0 0.0 0 2 52 26.0 0
Jace Billingsley 14 131 9.4 0 53 1,399 26.4 2
Jamal Agnew 17 216 12.7 1 0 0 0.0 0
** college stats     *

Twentyman's take: Jones, Billingsley and Agnew are players to watch at the start of camp.

Jones has experience doing both in the NFL, while Billingsley did both in college at a high level.

View photos of the kick and punt returners competing for roster spots entering training camp.

Agnew is one of the fastest players on the roster after running the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds in the pre-draft process. He averaged 12.7 yards per punt return as a senior at San Diego last year.

Tate continued to get punt return reps in the open portion of OTAs and the minicamp, but the team would probably like to find another option, if possible, instead of putting their No. 1 receiver in harm's way as punt returner.

This competition is really going to come down to reliability, consistency and production. The Lions film every rep at practice and the pressure only ratchets up in the four preseason games. It should be a fun competition to watch leading right up to the regular-season roster cuts.

By the numbers:

5th: Roberts earned the fifth-highest overall grade among NFL return man last year by Pro Football Focus.

71.4: Percentage of Detroit's kickoff returns that went for at least 20 yards last season, which was tied with Seattle as the highest percentage in the NFL.

1: The Lions had one special teams turnover last season. It came in the first quarter against Jacksonville on a punt return.

Quotable: "We have some guys on the team right now that we feel would be candidates to be the returner," Lions GM Bob Quinn said before the draft. "We've got Dwayne Washington coming back. We liked obviously what he did in the preseason last year as a kick returner and think he has a good future doing that.

"We have Jace Billingsley, TJ Jones, a couple other players that haven't returned too much in their career, but we're working with them this spring to kind of develop that. It's an area that we're looking at and we'll kind of see how that works out in the next couple weeks."

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