The Detroit Lions special teams unit has been dismal, lacking a premier kick/punt returner for some time.
Last season, rookies Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams ranked No. 25 and No. 28 respectively in kickoff return average and Dennis Northcutt ranked No. 15 in punt return average.
None of those players scored a special teams touchdown or excelling in the role, leaving Detroit to find a long-term solution.
The Lions and other NFL teams know what an elite returner can do, with their ability to change the momentum of a game in an instant.
There are two prospects in the draft that Detroit should target in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Brandon Banks—WR/Special Teams Kansas State (5’6”, 150 lbs)
Banks won several awards including: Big Twelve Special Teams Player of the Year (2009), Second Team Wide Receiver (2009), and Newcomer of the Year award (2008).
He ran a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at the combine, though he’s been clocked at 4.37 seconds. Banks was a 2006 USA Today All-USA high school track team after posting a 10.42 in the 100-meter dash.
He tied for the nation’s lead in kick return touchdowns (four) with C.J. Spiller and was voted second-team All-American by Sporting News for his return abilities.
In 2008 with Josh Freeman as his quarterback, Banks had 1,049 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
After Freeman’s departure for the NFL, he did suffer setbacks, totaling 705 receiving yards with only one touchdown.
Banks does come with some questions marks regarding more than his stature. In December 2009, he was arrested for battery and possession of a stimulant.
If his character issues can be overlooked, he would give the Lions a talented returner with some upside in the receiving game.
Trindon Holliday—WR/Special Teams LSU (5’5” 166 lbs)
Holliday is known as the fastest player ever to play college football. He is a track star and the reigning NCAA Champion in the 100-meters with a time of 10.00 seconds.
At the NFL combine, Holliday ran his 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds; combine times tend to be slower than pro days. ESPN has reported he ran a 4.22.
He ranked second in the nation in punt returns with an 18.1 average (362 yards and a touchdown).
Holliday has seen time at running back and wide receiver throughout his career at LSU, though he was invited to the combine as a returner. He also ran receiver drills.
While track stars have been given attempts at NFL careers before and failed, he is patient and waits for his blockers instead of scorching up-field.
Holliday’s main contributions would be in the return game, though he could bring a home-run threat to the offense in a part-time role.
Brett Swenson—K Michigan St. (5’8”, 179lbs)
Lions kicker Jason Hanson, aged 40 before next season, will have to retire at some point.
His replacement will be needed and there is an intriguing prospect in the draft from nearby East Lansing.
The Floridian has handled Michigan winters and played in some of the largest stadiums in the world (Michigan, Penn State). That will come in handy playing in the hostile environments of Lambeau Field and Solider Field.
Swenson has a career field goal percentage of 78% and converted 86% in 2009. Hanson’s career percentage is 82%.
While he doesn’t possess the most powerful leg, he does have above-average strength and is accurate.
Scouts have touted Swenson as a future starting kicker and he could learn from a year on the sidelines. It seems like a perfect fit for Detroit.