Packers Have Added Three New Options at Kick Returner

This offseason, the Packers have added three new candidates to fight for kick return duties. 

The Green Bay Packers have three fresh options for open competition at kick returner. Recent draft picks Amari Rodgers and Kylin Hill, as well as undrafted free agent Christian Uphoff, all could be viable options. You can expect all three to get a chance to take snaps for return duties this summer.

Last season, the Packers relied on Darrius Shepherd, Tyler Ervin, and Malik Taylor to return a bulk of the kicks, but the results were insufficient. According to The Football Database, Green Bay was second to last in average yards per kick return. For the entire season, they had only two kickoffs returned for at least 30 yards despite attempting 33 returns.

As a result of the Packers’ poor performance in 2020, special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga was fired earlier this year after two seasons. His replacement is former special teams assistant and energetic coach Maurice Drayton, who aims for the vast improvement of the team’s third unit-- especially on kick returns.

Of the newcomers, the most attractive option could be this year’s third-round pick. While at Clemson, Rodgers mostly specialized on punts, finishing with 68 returns for 529 yards, a 7.8 avg, and one touchdown. However, he did return two kicks during his college career. Most notably as a freshman, he returned a kick for 36 yards against Citadel.

When discussing Rodgers’ skillset following his selection, head coach Matt LaFleur said, “He’s got return ability. He could potentially be a dual returner for us. I think he’s a complete football player.”

If LaFleur is true to his word and Rodgers impresses early on as a returner, he could return both kicks and punts in 2021.

Hill, a seventh-round pick out of Mississippi State, is another possible candidate. Hill rushed for over 2,500 yards in college but did not handle kick or punt returns. That doesn’t necessarily rule him out as a special teams contributor if Green Bay wants to see how his running back prowess translates to returning kicks. Sitting behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon on the depth chart, Hill will need to do everything he can to see the field.

Last but not least, the UDFA safety out of Illinois State provides another intriguing option. Uphoff was named an honorable mention to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference as a kick returner in 2018. Serving as the primary kick returner during his sophomore season, Uphoff returned 18 kicks for 470 yards and a 26.1 average. Showing out on special teams could be Uphoff’s ticket to making the roster in a crowded secondary.

The bright side of following a dismal performance returning kicks in 2020 is the Packers now have three new options they can explore.

 

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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7 points

Comments (30)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:16 pm

You can add UDFA WR Gaither too. He returned kicks and punts for 3 years. 23 kick returns, 434 yards at an average of 18.9 for San Jose State. Also returned 12 punts at a 4.6 yards average.

I’m not going to get excited about Hill as a returner. Just having the ability with the ball in hand doesn’t make it wise to put a player back there in the NFL.

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mnbadger's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:23 pm

same with Rodgers. FAS - GPG!

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Tundraboy's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:26 pm

Agree . And I’m not too thrilled with risking Rodgers as a returner either.

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LambeauPlain's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:47 pm

Are KR and PR injured more often as a percent of touches vs other positions? I simply don't know.

I made the mistake of watching Hill's game video. Oh my! How did he last until the 7th?

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coolhand's picture

May 14, 2021 at 03:14 pm

I see a lot of Aaron Jones in this kid. Good hands and quick feet.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

May 14, 2021 at 06:53 pm

OK, you've peaked my interest about Gaither - who keeps popping-up among some of the more dedicated commentators. At first, I didn't think much of him - thinking he was just Jared Abbrederis 2.0. However, after watching some tape on him, boy, does he like to catch and go upfield in a hurry. He looks to be a polished receiver, with nice hands, who will also work the slot. I'm officially putting him on my Must Watch list for training camp.

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mnbadger's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:26 pm

I'd rather see them put EQ back there. Make him show us some of that talent we keep hearing about. Maybe even a little toughness. ARod may be too valuable of an asset to risk injury when a fair catch is likely a net win. FAS! GPG!

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Coldworld's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:34 pm

EQ returned one punt in college and no kicks. Not sure he’s a proven returner.

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NoNonsense's picture

May 14, 2021 at 12:59 pm

I would include RB Patrick Taylor as another option at KR. I think he makes the roster as the 3rd or 4th RB.

I still think signing Cordarrelle Patterson would have taken all the doubt out of the KR position and offered some positional versatility on offense as well but hes now a Falcon so that's off the table..

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Coldworld's picture

May 15, 2021 at 08:22 am

Patrick Taylor had one punt return and no kick returns in college. Again, I’m not sure that makes him a credible return candidate.

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PhantomII's picture

May 14, 2021 at 01:03 pm

Hopefully ML has learned you can't have one guy on the team do everything in the kickoff , punt return and jet sweeps and then use him even more in other spots. That's when swerve got hurt and missed most of the year. If you need one of those players....get 2 because you may have to get rid of a big part of your game plan if you don't.

6 points
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Coldworld's picture

May 15, 2021 at 08:23 am

It’s the old adage that if a role is important you had better have back up options.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 14, 2021 at 03:50 pm

Yeah, getting those extra 3 yards twice every game is going to make quite a difference.

Don’t return any kick you don’t have to. Don’t return punts, period.

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PhantomII's picture

May 14, 2021 at 06:42 pm

Not having even a high school quality ST in decades does seem to numb the thought process. A dangerous returner does give a team the ability to get back into games quickly or fumble a game away just as swiftly. It could go either way. I just don't want our new Slot and sweep guy hurt because we didn't draft the right players for the job.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 14, 2021 at 07:06 pm

Yes, it can go either way, but for every long return you’ll get you’ll have fumbles and penalties. I don’t think it balances out unless you’re Devin Hester.

We return two kicks per game. Our average is about 3 yards below the league average. 2 x 3 = 6. 6 yards per game, in exchange for the increased likelihood of a fumble, a penalty, or an injury.

Not worth it, IMO.

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Cubbygold's picture

May 15, 2021 at 06:17 am

Couldn't agree more. Every time I see a kick taken out of the end zone, only to see the guy run into a pile of players at the 23 I think 'wtf are we doing'.

If I was in GB, I'd want a deep understanding of the total KR/PR yards gained by every team over the past few years, and then adjust those numbers for penalties and fumbles. In the end, it's probably not a very attractive risk/reward, like you say.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 15, 2021 at 07:00 am

Welcome to the dark side, Cubbygold.

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dblbogey's picture

May 14, 2021 at 11:53 pm

"Not having even a high school quality ST in decades..."

I disagree. I think our special teams would be fairly solid against high school competition,

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egbertsouse's picture

May 15, 2021 at 07:38 am

I agree, however, GB was so awful last year that many teams were kicking to the 5 yard line to force returns. You have to be good enough to make teams try to go to the end zone.

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Coldworld's picture

May 15, 2021 at 08:26 am

There are also times when the weather will intervene. One has to have a credible return capability. How much one seeks to use it is a fair question, but the ability must be there and demonstrated.

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nostradanus's picture

May 14, 2021 at 04:03 pm

When was the last time the Packers have had a truly dynamic kick returner? They have neglected this part of Special Teams for so long no wonder they are always at the bottom of Special Teams in the NFL.
The last great kick returner they had was Howard in 96 and that was for only 1 year I believe. I’m rooting for Rodgers though I don’t think he’s special at kick returns I’m sure he’s better than we’ve had in quite some time.

7 points
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greengold's picture

May 14, 2021 at 06:37 pm

Yeah nostradanus, kinda thought Cobb would be that guy, then Ty Montgomery, then, nobody. Remember Roel Preston? I couldn’t even tell you when he played...

Maybe Gutekunst realized this last year your OL could suck quickly without backup Tackles, and your STs are going to suck without the players/specialists there. I couldn’t tell you when we last had a return of any kind for a TD.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

May 14, 2021 at 10:55 pm

Micah Hyde had multiple returns for touch downs.

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Coldworld's picture

May 15, 2021 at 09:27 am

He had 3 punt returns for TDs in his first two years and then his average yardage dropped off significantly and he has not had one since. Hyde was definitely the genuine article at first.

Cobb had 2 punt return TDs and a kick return TD in his first two years. He also hasn’t had one since.

2 points
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Guam's picture

May 14, 2021 at 05:00 pm

I don't care who it is as long as they are better than what we have been watching the last few years. Yikes!

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packmann's picture

May 14, 2021 at 06:50 pm

Great news Brandon because I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one holding my breath every time we received a kick or punt! Go Pack!

4 points
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Jonathan Spader's picture

May 14, 2021 at 10:56 pm

The Packers will once again be one of the last in the league in STs. We keep firing our coordinator and promoting an assistant. With 0 improvement. Why would this be any different? Definition of insanity.

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PatrickGB's picture

May 15, 2021 at 12:47 pm

There are great returners in the league but often have less value at non ST positions. Does a team prefer a superior ST’s guy who as little value otherwise? So far the Packers have not. I think that the team needs players who can out execute on ST’s. The blockers and gunners may be the key to improving that part of the game.
Oh, and teach JK how to tackle!

2 points
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Stroh's picture

May 15, 2021 at 08:23 pm

Rodgers was drafted party with the intention of him being the primary returner, just like Cobb was. He needs to be both the punt and kick returner until he proves he's too valuable on offense. It would be a major disappointment if he's not handling both returns.

He's a rookie, use him as much as possible. Just like they did with Cobb!

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Tex49's picture

May 15, 2021 at 08:46 pm

Stokes might be worth a look, in his highlights here sure looks like he knows what to do with the ball. And with that speed could do some damage.

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