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Detroit Lions: Best and Worst Options at Kick/Punt Return

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Detroit Lions: Best and Worst Options at Kick/Punt Return
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The Josh Cribbs sweepstakes has come to a close. After about two months on the free agent market, the Oakland Raiders landed the longtime Cleveland Brown on a one-year deal.

With that deal in place, the Detroit Lions' hunt for a new return man resumes.

Detroit's special teams got little production out of current free agent Stefan Logan and are looking for new options. The Lions averaged only 20 yards per kickoff return, the second-worst in the league. The punt return game wasn't spectacular, either, with only a 8.6-yard average ranking No. 22.

Plenty of players on the roster will compete for the open position, but not all are best suited as a returner or should focus more on their prime area. Here is a list of the best and worst options as the Lions' return man.

BEST: WR Mike Thomas

The Lions dealt their 2014 fifth-round pick for young veteran Mike Thomas to boost their receiver depth. Dealing with Nate Burleson's leg injury and the drama with Titus Young, Thomas was acquired to provide a secondary option for superstar Calvin Johnson. 

The trade was made in the middle of the season, where the Lions went on an eight-game losing streak. Thomas provided very little impact, and there hasn't been much justification behind the trade.

Now with a full offseason with his new team, plus an opening for a return man as well as the No. 4 receiver, Thomas has a shot to capitalize. 

The 5'9" receiver has a good bit of experience returning kicks in Jacksonville, but he wasn't given much chance behind Logan. Now the Lions can draw up creative packages at receiver and running back for Thomas; however, he could be most effective on special teams. 

BEST: WR Patrick Edwards

Young receiver Patrick Edwards didn't see beyond the practice team last season. However, the speedster from Houston has a chance to redeem himself in 2013.

Players like Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb, Chicago Bear Devin Hester, and Seattle Seahawk Percy Harvin began their waves as dangerous return men, then transitioned into weapons on offense. Edwards isn't in their class, but he could create his name following their path.

Edwards' best chance at earning a roster spot could be on special teams. Remember his name through OTAs and preseason.

BEST: RB/WR Theo Riddick

The Lions' roster is loaded with versatile weapons, and sixth-round draft pick Theo Riddick is one of the many names. The Detroit rookie saw plenty of action at wide receiver, running back, as well as a return man during his four years at Notre Dame.

Riddick shattered his school record as a freshman for most return yards in a season with 849. His special teams workload decreased when head coach Brian Kelly wanted him to focus more on offense as a receiver. 

Riddick displays more quick moves than straight-line speed. However, if the rookie and the return team can create some holes to run, there should be a pickup in production. Riddick should be involved in the competition for returning kicks.

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WORST: RB Reggie Bush

Head coach Jim Schwartz has already tossed new acquisition Reggie Bush's name into the discussion for returning kicks. Let's hope that consideration stays as just that.

Bush has been brought to Detroit to make everybody's life easier. He provides depth next to young back Mikel Leshoure, another target for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and is another eraser for receiver Calvin Johnson.

With running back Jahvid Best's health and NFL future in concern, the Lions need Bush to fill that void. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can get creative and set up special packages and plays exploiting Bush's explosiveness. 

Since his beginning years with the New Orleans Saints, Bush has added weight and improved his ability to run between the tackles. The electrifying side still comes in doses, but the Lions need that on offense. Detroit can't afford to risk Bush's health returning kicks. 

WORST: CB Darius Slay

On draft day, second-round cornerback Darius Slay offered his abilities as a return man. Given his speedy 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (4.36 seconds) and his kick return history, it seemed like a good idea until more facts came out. 

Slay first claimed his knee was in good shape after a torn meniscus, but he had to undergo surgery in early May. The procedure forced Slay to miss rookie training camp, but it shouldn't hinder his progression on the field. 

Slay was graded as a first-rounder on the Lions' draft board, but the injury kept him around until the second round. He has a chance of being the No. 2 cornerback across from veteran Chris Houston.

There's plenty of depth and competition at cornerback, but second-year corners Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood remain unhealthy. Slay needs to stay grounded at cornerback, for now at least. Maybe when Greenwood and Bentley get healthy, Slay can be utilized in other options. 

WORST: WR Ryan Broyles 

Depending on his health, wide receiver Ryan Broyles is primed for a breakout campaign in his second season. His rehab is going smoothly and should be ready to go by the regular season.

Since being drafted in 2012, the opportunity of Broyles returning kicks has been mentioned. However, that speculation should pass and keep their budding receiver focused on offense.

The Lions are dealing with limited experience and depth at wide receiver. With top secondary options Broyles and Nate Burleson recovering from injury, they need to preserve the health of their best weapons. Detroit can't afford another season of force-feeding Calvin Johnson the football. 

Broyles is a crisp route-runner with great hands and a feel for creating separation from defenders. The Lions can't risk another injury for Broyles, especially when collisions and injuries are so common on special teams. 

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