I think I can probably say that I am the only person who mocked Jamal Agnew to the Lions. I have had to talk more than one Lions fan off the edge of a cliff after this pick. Agnew is a 5’9″ cornerback who weighs only 186 lbs out of San Diego. Not San Diego State mind you, but San Diego.
That’s a school small enough that they don’t even have a pro day. In fact, the only reason I ever looked at Jamal Agnew before the draft is because I did a series of articles including potential day three targets for the Lions.
When I actually watched Agnew play, I saw three things that made me believe that he would become a Detroit Lion. The first was that he played in almost every aspect of special teams. He is a return man, he chased down kickoffs, and he blocked field goals. The second was that his incredible workout numbers show up on film.
Agnew ran a 4.34 40 yard dash in his pre-draft workout and that speed is real. The third was that he played inside, outside, and as a safety at various points in his collegiate career, making him the kind of versatile defender the Patriots historically go after. Bob Quinn has shown some tendencies in these two drafts that definitely remind me of the Patriots.
He ranked as CBS.com’s number 297 prospect in the draft. So why did the Lions take Jamal Agnew with the 165th pick in the draft? He finished his college career with 59 passes defended, 11 interceptions, and 13.5 tackles for loss. In his conference call after being drafted he credited tape study and studying the playbook as the sources of his success. An athlete who is willing to do whatever coaches ask, and studies hard? That is an easy pick to make.
What Jamal Agnew’s Highlights Reveal
The reel he put on his own youtube channel starts with a blocked field goal in which he rockets off the edge. From there is continues with acrobatic interceptions, electric returns, and huge hits. While all of them are impressive, a certain amount of restraint needs to be shown in praising them. The quarterbacks Agnew has played against will have great careers as accountants, investment bankers, and likely high school coaches, but they’ll never play a down of football as pros. Agnew dominates his competition, but you would expect the only professional caliber athlete to do that.
So what value can we take from it then? Well, he dominates in press coverage, and in off man coverage as well. He dominates in zone whether he has a responsibility in the flats or deep half responsibility. The big hits he makes are of the variety he will have to make in the NFL. He is not hitting players high and wrestling them to the ground, but clearing their legs entirely out from underneath them. He is not succeeding because of athleticism alone, but because he excels at diagnosing the play and attacking where the ball will be going. His highlights bear out his interview comments, and the ways he is successful are likely to translate in the NFL.
As a kick returner, Agnew shows great acceleration, if not a great ability to change direction at high speed. He returns both kicks and punts which is nice. He was a running back and defensive back in high school. It shows in his ability to read and set up blocks, as well as the comfortability he has carrying the ball. Agnew gets up field rapidly, and bursts into holes as they open, not as they are about to close.
What Did The Lions Get In Jamal Agnew?
In 2017 Agnew will compete for a special teams role as the team’s backup slot corner role. His most likely path to the field will be as a punt and kickoff returner. His acceleration with the ball in his hands will help him make his mark in the preseason. He could easily be the replacement for Andre Roberts in the third phase of the game.
His toughness could also translate well to covering kicks, making him even more useful to the team. The Lions did not draft a plug and play prospect in the fifth round because there are none. Agnew is going to take some coaching to get ready, but this staff has a history of good work in the defensive backfield. He may never be a great corner, but it is quite possible that the players he was drafted to replace were special teamers Johnson Bademosi and Don Carey.