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Green and Bold: Who Will Return Punts?

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Green and Bold: Who Will Return Punts?

The Packers will feel the loss of Micah Hyde all over the field in 2017, obviously in the secondary but also on special teams, where he returned 76 punts over his four-year career in Green Bay.

In 2016, Hyde returned 11 punts for 64 yards. He had the most impact, however, in 2014, when he returned 14 punts for a whopping 221 yards and two touchdowns. 

Green Bay has a history of impressive return specialists, but not recently. The name that comes to mind first, of course, is Desmond Howard; his 99-yard kickoff return in the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXI earned him the MVP award.

There was also Allen Rossum, who brought his return specialty not only to Green Bay but other NFL franchises, as well, with more than 10,000 total return yards and eight touchdowns in his career overall. 

In recent times, however, there's a clear standout when it comes to punt returns for the Packers, and his stats could be even more flashy if the Packers used him more. That player is wide receiver Randall Cobb. 

In 2016, the Packers placed more of an emphasis on punt returns during training camp; the team ranked 30th in yards per return in 2015. Head coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Ron Zook spent a lot of time addressing the issue prior to the season, but it didn't translate to the field.

With Hyde and wide receiver Trevor Davis handling most of the duties, the Packers finished the regular season ranked 20th with 235 yards on 26 punt returns. 

Back in 2012, though, the Packers ranked in the top 15 in the league in punt returns. And sure enough, that's also the year that Cobb made the biggest impact on special teams, returning 31 punts for 292 yards, including one of 75 yards, and a touchdown.

Even in 2016, when he was only asked to attempt four returns, Cobb had two of more than 20 yards. 

It's obvious why the Packers decreased Cobb's special teams duties in 2015 and 2016. With Jordy Nelson out for the year in 2015, Cobb became the team's de facto No. 1 receiver. Allowing Cobb to be lost for the offense to a special teams injury would have been beyond objectionable, so the team wisely scaled back those duties. 

2016 tells a different story, however. Cobb was still a crucial part of the passing offense last season, with 60 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. But he was the clear No. 3 receiver behind Nelson and Davante Adams, and averaged just 10.2 yards per reception. 

Given the talent (provided everyone stays healthy) the Packers are cultivating in the passing game, having also added Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, there's a real possibility that Cobb's role becomes more of a straight-up slot receiver in 2017, which would keep him plenty fresh to be used on punt returns, as well. And as the Packers haven't really had a spark in that area of the game since Cobb was last heavily involved in 2012, it's certainly something they could stand to improve on. 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (20) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Packer_Pete's picture

My early guess would be Cobb, but I also would not be surprised if Aaron Jones would look good returning punts, given his receiving skills and elusiveness when running. But I've always thought that punt returner is more suited for a WR, and KR is more for a RB, so I'd figure if Jones plays a role as a returner it would be KR. At the same time, there are only so many spots on the roster, so if one player can be both PR/KR then I think tht would be ideal.

RCPackerFan's picture

I agree with Packer Pete that the job will likely go to Cobb.

But a couple of guys to keep an eye on are Trevor Davis and Aaron Jones.
I thought Davis did a pretty good job when he returned punts last year. He had 9 returns with a 12.8 yard average which would have ranked 6th with players that had 4 or more returns.
If Davis makes the team he should be in the running for the PR job.

Jones is elusive and could be a guy to keep an eye on. He is a versatile player and definitely could earn a job as a returner. Like Packer Pete said above, he could also be in the mix as the KR too.

TheVOR's picture

Trevor Davis is terrible! The dude was a fair catch master with 8 yards of cushion. Also, he won't be on this roster, too much talent at WR in the draft and in UDFA. He's gonzo. I held out all this hope for the dude being our kick returner, and he shows ZERO instincts at the NFL level, been terrifically disappointed in that player.

IMO, no starter or major contributor should be handling return duties, you're just begging to lose in that proposition to injury. They need to find a return guy in the mix of WR's, or perhaps even Janis. Unfortunately I'm not sure Janis makes the team this season either, and if he does, it will be clearly on special teams. He's clearly not a top 5 WR on this depth chart, making him a perfect candidate to become a return specialist/Special teams standout.

dobber's picture

Let's figure out how the defense will force punts before we get too worried about who is going to return them...

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

I'm counting on multiple dropped passes...

Jersey Al's picture

haha! +1

cuervo's picture

Best post in the last 6 months!

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

Good article. Spot on. Cobb's decreased role in the offense due to a deeper WR/TE core, makes putting him back on punts an obvious move.

This doesn't mean someone else won't emerge. But for now, Cobb is the clear veteran choice for a high pressure job.

dobber's picture

I really don't believe that he will have a decreased role in the offense. The Packers are still likely to choose 11 personnel as their go-to offensive package and he's going to be on the field in those scenarios. Unless he's gassed, he's going to see a very large number of offensive snaps...it's offensive snaps that I'm concerned with, not necessarily the number of passes he catches.

mnbruton's picture

My thought is that if the Packers are going to be running an increased number of two-TE sets, as we've been led to believe, then that could eat into some of Cobb's snaps. I could see a fairly frequent use of a set involving, for instance, Nelson/Adams/Bennett/Kendricks/Montgomery.

Worztik's picture

OK!!!

DThomas's picture

Another good article by Michelle. I too think Cobb could end up being the PR. But for that to happen, a youngster will have to earn some significant playing time at WR.

If a newcomer emerges as a real threat at PR, all the better. If not, I'd like to see Cobb back there.

stockholder's picture

I believe Cobb will start on returns. But any game that is not tight. Look for Davis.

gr7070's picture

I couldn't disagree more with the article and those echoing it.

2012 Cobb no longer exists. He's half the player in 2017 he was then. He greatly lacks the agility and acceleration he once had.

The only positives he would have is sure hands and a good head for receiving decisions. While those are important they can be found in someone else who also posseses the physical abilities to make a big play and produce a solid average return.

PR is not a role for Cobb, and unfortunately I don't think WR is one he can fill well anymore either.

Grandfathered's picture

I think that this is where Aaron Roger's idiosyncracies come into effect. It may be true that Cobb is diminished, but AR likes him and they communicate well, and Cobb is where he's supposed to be in his routes. Contrast AR's frustrations with Adams in 2015, or his coolnees for Janis. A receiver's skills or physical dimensions may be great, but if AR doesn't throw him the ball, he has no role. I think Cobb plays receiver and is the current leading candidate for PR.

dobber's picture

In the end, I believe an explosive PR is a luxury...especially with an offense that can churn out yards like the Packers can (when it's not 2015, anyway). Minimum qualifications: I'm looking for a guy who is going to secure the catch and who will get what's blocked for him. If he can make a guy or two miss, that's the bonus.

PETER MAIZ's picture

Cobb may not be the man he was in 2012. That's a long time ago. He can do a decent job, but unlikely to make a superlative job. It'sup in the air, and Davis may not even make the team, unless PS.

Dzehren's picture

With the money Cobb is making (10Mil) he should be returning punts with his lack of recent production as WR. If the game is out of reach- then a sure handed backup should field it. Cobb could be a comeback player in 2017-offense will score with or without him.

Davante Adams has clearly passed Cobb on the depth chart.

Dzehren's picture

Cobb needs to make an immediate impact somewhere and if it's returning punts so be it

Worztik's picture

If Cobb is the punt returner, he'll just get injured that much sooner so, let him be the one! Give some others the chance to play cause they won't be any worse... just sayin' TK!!!

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