The Detroit Lions featured an elite return game on special teams during the 2022 season, but the organization is still looking at ways to get better. That includes considering options outside the NFL.
The Lions have invited XFL wide receiver Darrius Shepherd to the team’s rookie minicamp in May.
While playing for the St. Louis BattleHawks this past season, Shepherd won the XFL special teams player of the year award.
In 10 XFL games this past season, Shepherd averaged 24.8 yards per kickoff return.
Lions Invite XFL WR Darrius Shepherd to Rookie Minicamp
XFL reporter Evan Willsmore tweeted on May 3 that XFL players cannot sign NFL contracts until May 15, but they are allowed to work out with NFL teams before that date.
XFL stars have received invitations to NFL rookie minicamps throughout the league this week. The BattleHawks star wideout will be at Detroit rookie minicamp.
In addition to his strong play on special teams, Shepherd was one of the top wide receivers for the St. Louis XFL team. With 48 receptions, 519 receiving yards, and 6 receiving touchdowns, Shepherd was second for the BattleHawks in all three categories.
Across the entire XFL, Shepherd was tied for second in touchdown receptions, fourth in catches, and seventh in receiving yards.
How Shepherd Could Potentially Fit With the Lions
The Lions finished just 18th in total return yardage on punts, but that hardly tells the whole story of the team’s return game.
Opponents generally tried to kick away from Detroit’s punt returner Kalif Raymond, which led to the low return yardage overall on punts for the Lions.
But Detroit finished second in the league in yards per punt return with 13.2 per return. The Lions were also third in the NFL with an average of 26.1 return yards per kickoff.
Raymond is under contract for the 2023 season, so the Lions are likely set at punt returner.
However, the team’s top kickoff returner, running back Justin Jackson, remains a free agent. That could give Shepherd the opportunity to earn a spot on the Lions roster.
Shepherd gained experience as a kickoff returner in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State in 2019.
In 14 games with the Packers, Shepherd returned 20 kickoffs for an average of 18.7 yards per return. He also returned 3 punts for negative 3 yards.
During the 2020 season, Shepherd played 139 snaps on offense as well. He caught 5 passes for 46 yards.
Ironically, the first reception of his career came against the Lions in Week 5 of the 2019 season.
In two NFL seasons, Shepherd has played 192 offensive snaps and 76 special teams snaps. Since the end of the 2020 season, he has spent time in training camps or on practice squads of the Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver Broncos.
During college, Shepherd posted 188 receptions for 2,841 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2022, he played six games for the New Jersey Generals in the USFL.