The Denver Broncos have been one of the best teams, historically, at finding undrafted free agents. It doesn't matter if we're talking about franchise legends like Rod Smith or Chris Harris Jr., or guys who contributed for a shorter time like CJ Anderson, Phillip Lindsay, or Shaquill Barrett. The Broncos have been among the best teams in the NFL at unearthing the gems after the NFL Draft.
One of their best finds is Kalif Raymond, a former Holy Cross product who was little-known coming out of college, even by the most die-hard of NFL Draft fanatics. He drew the attention of scouts and front office personnel when he ran a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash during the pre-draft process back in 2016.
The Broncos picked him up, and he sat on the practice squad until December of that 2016 season when he actually got on the field for a handful of games at the end of the season, replacing Jordan Norwood as the punt returner and kickoff returner. Despite Raymond's speed and overall talent, the Broncos let him go during roster cuts the following season. They had drafted Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie in the 2017 NFL Draft, hoping to add some "juice" to the offense and special teams.
McKenzie, specifically, was drafted to take over the punt return role, which he did. That did not go well.
Raymond was quickly scooped up by the New York Jets on waivers in 2017, but only lasted a couple of weeks there before he got released and then was signed to the New York Giants' practice squad. After playing two games for the Jets and six games for the Giants, Raymond would begin the real fight for his NFL roster life.
He was let go by the Giants on October 18, 2018, and didn't sign his next NFL contract until December 24, 2019, when he signed with the Tennessee Titans' practice squad. The Titans actually gave Raymond a legitimate shot to play, and from 2019-2020 he suited up for a total of 23 games. He was primarily returning kicks and punts for the Titans, but Raymond got some action in the Titans' offense and even had a touchdown catch in 2019, which really drew the attention of Broncos fans at the time.
Hitting free agency in 2021, the Detroit Lions signed Raymond to what was, at the time, arguably the worst wide receiver room in the entire NFL. The Lions had just traded Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and picks, and the wide receiver room was in shambles. Raymond was only expected to be a special teams guy, if he even made the roster, but he ended up carving a role in the offense as well. As a matter of fact, in two seasons with the Lions, Raymond has only played a total of 108 special teams snaps.
Over the last two seasons, Raymond has caught 95 passes for 1,192 yards and four touchdowns. He had a career-best 616 receiving yards last season and was named second-team All-Pro for his efforts as a punt returner. He had 20 punt returns for 264 yards and a touchdown.
A second-team All-Pro recognition certainly qualifies Kalif Raymond to be called a "star" at this point. He's one of the best return specialists in the game, and he's developed into a very dangerous weapon offensively for the Detroit Lions. It's clear that this is one that got away from the Denver Broncos, who ironically tried to replace Raymond with Isaiah McKenzie.
Another one that got away from Denver.
And the Broncos, at the time of this writing, have an unsettled punt return situation. How about that? Why is this coming up now, you might ask? Well, Raymond just signed a two-year contract extension in Detroit. He's become a key player of that franchise's resurgence, and he's been so rewarded.