Now into his third season as a Detroit Lion, wide receiver Kalif Raymond has become one of the NFL's best punt returners. He earned an AP All Pro nod for his work in that area last season, as he finished second in the league in punt return average. If he had enough returns to qualify in 2021, he would have been fourth in the league in punt return average.
So it' safe to say Raymond has built some equity with the Lions' coaching staff, as a punt returner and as a receiver.
The generally accepted thing when it comes to returning punts is "put your heels at the 10-yard line, and if it's over your head, let it go." There is a chance a punt will get downed near your own goal line, but it's seen as a less risky outcome compared to fielding a punt in that area of the field.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, Raymond fielded two punts inside his own 5-yard line. Neither return went especially well, ending at the 10 and 15-yard line respectively. He did have a third return of 15 yards, boosting his average to 11 yards per return for the day.
Lions' special teams coach has no issue with Kalif Raymond's punt return decisions
Lions special teams coach Dave Fipp spoke to the media this week. Naturally, he was asked about Raymond's risky punt return decisions. (h/t to Lions Wire).
"There’s a risk to it, there’s a reward to it. You’re balancing out both those things,” Fipp said. “You obviously don’t want to put your team in a negative position. We do have a lot of confidence in 'Leaf' (Raymond's nickname) back there. I think when you have a good player back there and a guy who’s confident in himself and believes he can make something happen, you don’t want to take that away from him too much either, so there’s a fine line. But I believe in everything he did back there. I’ve got no problems with any of it.”
One of Raymond's against-the-grain returns was off of a 60-yard punt, where he had room to run. Fipp doesn't want to take away Raymond's ability to make a game-turning play on a punt return, but there's a fine line he has to toe.
In games where field position will likely matter a lot, like Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, a risky return decision that goes wrong could have a game-turning impact to the negative side for the Lions. But for now, Fipp has complete trust in Raymond to know when to take those risks and when not to.