It feels like a foregone conclusion who the Detroit Lions’ kickoff returner will be, but Maurice Alexander is at least making it a conversation.
Upon arriving in Detroit Lions training camp after playing in the USFL, Maurice Alexander has looked like a natural return man by all accounts during practice. He has carried that into preseason games, taking an opportunity that’s been put in front of him.
Alexander had one kickoff return for 22 yards in the preseason opener against the Falcons, as head coach Dan Campbell openly acknowledged wanting to get a look at multiple guys other than Godwin Igwebuike, last year’s primary kickoff return man for the Lions.
Alexander had the kickoff and punt return jobs to himself against the Colts in the Lions’ second preseason game. He averaged 38 yards per kickoff return (four for 152 yards), with a long of 61 yards that he nearly broke for a touchdown. He also saw some offensive snaps in a game where a lot of guys were rested, catching three passes for 18 yards.
Maurice Alexander making a run at Lions’ kickoff return job
In the 2022 USFL season, playing for the Philadelphia Stars, Alexander led the league in kickoff return yards (787) and kickoff return average (31.5). While it’s the USFL and now the NFL preseason, being a return man is not for everyone and being good at it is definitely not easy.
Igwebuike was fine as the Lions’ No. 1 kickoff returner last year, averaging 24.9 yards per run back with a long of 47 yards. Beyond that he was a core special teamer, playing a total of 288 special teams snaps (65 percent of the Lions’ special teams snaps). That will give him some edge as the Lions make roster cuts, beyond whatever he could bring as a down the depth chart running back.
Alexander’s potential special teams contribution beyond kickoff returns is hard to envision, and it’s where he’s likely to fall short. Keeping him would probably also mean the Lions keeping seven wide receivers on the 53-man roster going into the season. So he’s still a longshot, but if he’s cut he should find a new team with little trouble.
Igwebuike has been practically written in ink to keep his gig as the Lions’ kickoff returner this year, with no significant challengers. Alexander is now making it a question and a conversation, with the preseason finale on Sunday as his possible opportunity to make a final push for the job.