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Packers Should Look to Add Explosiveness to Return Game

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Packers Should Look to Add Explosiveness to Return Game

When it comes to the return game in Green Bay, point production has been sparse in recent years. The Packers’ last kickoff return touchdown came in the 2011 season-opener, when Randall Cobb took one 108 yards against the Saints. Their last punt return score came courtesy of a 55-yard effort from Micah Hyde in week 17 against Detroit. Since 2000, Green Bay has a total of 10 kick return touchdowns—eight punts and two kickoffs.

The Packers went with Trevor Davis as their best return option in 2017, and the results were not exactly impressive. While he did rank third in the league with a 12-yard average on punt returns, it was his decision-making close to his own goal line that left a lot to be desired, often calling for fair catches inside the 10-yard line. And despite an encouraging showing in the preseason, Davis failed to create many explosive plays, with his best return—a 65-yarder that set up a tying score—coming against Cleveland in week 14.

Of course, the number one job of a punt returner is to secure the ball. To his credit, Davis did prove reliable in that aspect. But the combination of head-scratching decisions and lack of explosive plays seem to indicate that it may be time for the Packers to look for a pure returner to try and jump start the production in that phase of the game.

In today’s NFL, versatility is coveted. Players who can contribute in multiple ways almost always gain an inside track, and the number of return specialists has dwindled because of that. Likewise, teams are becoming less and less likely to put superstars on the field for returns because of the assumed higher injury risk on those plays.

With those two things in mind, I tried to look for prospects I feel could help the Packers find more explosiveness in the return game. Here are three that stood out to me:

Greg Stroman (CB/Virginia Tech) – With four punt return touchdowns in college, Stroman will likely be a day three pick in the draft. He also tallied nine interceptions at Virginia Tech, and should test in the 4.5s in the 40-yard dash.

Darius Phillips (CB/Western Michigan) – Phillips was a touchdown machine in college, with five kick returns and one punt return for scores, along with six defensive touchdowns. Another probably day three selection, most project him as a sub-package player.

Quadree Henderson (WR/Pittsburgh) – The biggest concern with Henderson is his readiness, as some have said he would have been better off returning to school next season. His stats as a returner are impressive, though, as he racked up seven total touchdowns (four kickoffs, three punts) in his three seasons. He probably has the most “wiggle” of the three players listed here.

Obviously, Green Bay would not be looking to any of these guys to become instant superstars. I tend to lean toward the two cornerbacks, if only because the Packers will be looking to bolster their secondary, and either of them could add extra value by contributing in the return game. Henderson would be the definition of a return specialist, as he doesn’t fit the Packers’ mold as a wide receiver, standing at a diminutive 5’8”. Assuming Green Bay won’t be looking for a returner in the first few rounds, all three are viable options for late-round selections that could provide a spark the Packers need.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (21) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

lou's picture

No one likes to lose a starter returning kicks but the fact of the mater is Cobb was the teams best kickoff and punt returner as long as he has been on the roster (although Hyde was almost as good returning punts) too bad they didn't take the chance with him and based on his pay level they should have. Davis has shown natural kick return ability and fearlessness even with his slight frame but his decision making on punts makes you shake your head about every other game. The return jobs are his to lose and unfortunately to this point the only reason he is on the roster, like Desmond Howard he has trouble being strong enough to beat press man coverage and eliminates his excellent speed as a receiver threat.

stockholder's picture

I believe there is better. I DON'T LIKE WASTING a draft pick on a late Hopefuls. Use it to trade up. We need Wrs; Nelson and Cobb's contracts run out. And truthfully they'll only go the way of Janis and Davis. So with that in mind, my two are better picks. Kirk 4.4 we won't get. But James Washington 4.45 and even Dante Pettis 4.49 would be better. Packers should grab Kirk, and trade up for Washington in rd 2.

OrganLeroy's picture

No they shouldn't trade up for Washington, Kirk is a late 1st very early 2nd, there are other guys that are not only fast slot guys but excellent returners as well like Coutee, Miller, Moore & Quinn and there's no need to trade up for any of them. WR is NOT a position we should trade up for.

stockholder's picture

I understand that others are good. Kirk size will drop him. I believe he could fall to the packers with their second pick. Washington is good, and will be a later second. Again size. But if you want a WR and Kick off guy, he is perfect. I was looking at the next Nelson and Cobb here. Kick Returners! Playmakers! These two Can run downfield stretching the Defense. And I don't think anyone comes in as a FA.

HankScorpio's picture

Trading up with lots of holes and/or wants is not the optimal choice. There is a certain math behind a big class. If you draft 12 and miss on 2/3. You'll end up with 4 guys. If you draft 6 and hit on 1/2, you've got 3 players. It's harder to hit on 1/2 than 1/3.

I give you Ron Wolf's 13 man 2000 draft and 12 man 1999 draft. They only picked up one extra day 2 pick and it was a 3rd. They had 7 total 7th rounders, which produced 2 Packer HoFers. There are plenty of misses on the two lists--arguably 15 of them. That's about 40% hit rate.

And those two drafts help power the Packers for years. Especially if you count flipping one of the really bad misses (Fred Vinson) for Ahman Green, who is without a doubt the best Packer RB I've watched in my lifetime.

2000: (Day 1) Bubba Franks, (Day 2) Chad Clifton, Steve Warren, (Day 3) Na'il Diggs, Anthony Lucas, Gary Berry, KGB, Joey Jamison, Mark Tauscher, Ron Moore, Charles Lee, Eugene McCaslin and Rondell Mealy.

1999: (Day 1) Antuan Edwards, (Day 2) Fred Vinson, Mike McKenzie, Cletidus Hunt, (Day 3) Aaron Brooks (flipped for a pick), Josh Bidwell, De'Mond Parker, Craig Heimburger, Dee Miller, Scott Curry, Chris Akins and Donald Driver.

That's how you draft.

Turophile's picture

D.J.Chark WR LSU.

Now there is a guy with speed to burn AND great length. He could return punts in his rookie year and sub in as an outside WR With a chance to be a starting level WR in time. Players that are both tall and fast are rare.

Firstdown's picture

Davis is CLUTCH. That return against Cleveland was the best return, under the circumstances, I've ever seen. With our backs against the wall, on the 10 yard line with 90 yards to go, less than 3 minutes left, completely surrounded by Brown's players, if we don't score and win Aaron doesn't come back, Davis came through for us. And Davis actually would have scored if the kicker didn't stick out his leg and trip him.

He was one player away from making the Pro Bowl. Yeah, let's get rid of Davis.

stockholder's picture

So was Janis play- off game. But after that they kept him on the bench.

DD's picture

MM, genius. Doesn't use his players in the best position or scheme. You'll see this coming season. He's been there to long and his message is stale.

ShanghaiKid's picture

I’m not sure what games you have been watching, because Davis is average at best at returning. When you take all things into consideration Fielding punts inside the 10 and even 5 yard line at times. Letting the ball bounce at the 20 and roll. It far outweighs what he produces in return yards.

He also has no value as a WR. He doesn’t have a nose for locating and catching the deep ball, has below average hands, and can’t beat press coverage. He can run in a straight line fast, but doesn’t have the suddenness like a Cobb or the refined route running of Nelson. He is what he is at this point, a camp body, and a 4th round pick who didn’t pan out. Move on, it’s okay to admit mistakes as long as the team gets better.

cuervo's picture

In this day and age of the NFL having a kick return specialist is a thing of the past.

Kickoff rules have eliminated returns, and the punt emphasis has virtually done the same.

in 2017 there were 5 kickoff returns for a TD or less than 1%. There were a total of 8 punt returns for a TD, or 1.5% of all punts.

Drafting someone to provide explosive plays that will occur with less than 1% of all their snaps is foolish at best. Davis or anyone else that can field a ball is fine.

HankScorpio's picture

That's a pretty sound argument against putting much effort into the search for a new returner.

But they do need a new returner. Davis' decision-making is horrific. Pick a backup DB/WR/RB. Any backup DB/WR/RB. As long as it's not Davis.

Spock's picture

Agreed. Davis' decision-making called "horrific" is too kind! Just put someone back there who will make a "coach's" decision and can field the ball securely. Great speed with poor decision-making is useless.

Bure9620's picture

They can grab Ray Ray MCloud late

Lphill's picture

Take the touchback give Rodgers the ball at the 25 let him do the rest.

TommyG's picture

Goodness. Since the end of the season I’ve now read articles saying that a starter and depth are needed at safety, line backer (inside and outside), CB, O-line, WR, TE, d-line, and now we need to add a return specialist. That’s more than a dozen new players in order to satisfy those requirements. Is there this much dead weight on this team? Perhaps TT was the problem.

Doug Niemczynski's picture

You think? And Dom Capers and Mike McCarthy's over loyalty to his coaches. The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. All the wasted years.

John Kirk's picture

Kickoff returners are almost obsolete. No reason to draft anyone to do it solely for that.

Packers already have a guy on the roster to take over PR. 88 returned 12 punts in college for a 19.8 yd avg. and 2 TD's. The first time he ever returned a punt at Stanford he went 60 yards for a score.

We don't seem to use what we have in the right ways. I'm hoping after these offseason changes we will start.

Saying we don't need a quality PR because so few are returned for TD's misses the point. Field position is critical and a good PR gives you that more often than a not very good one. I miss the days we had an Allen Rossum or a Desmond Howard. Those guys shortened fields and scored for us.

I'll take Tyreek Hill every day on returns. Devin Hester used to scare me. Deion Sanders was fun to watch.

Is Joey Jamison still available? :)

EDIT: I'd almost forgotten Antonio Freeman was pretty good at returns before he became a stud WR for us. It's just another area to be better or worse than your opponent. If your D isn't good, it helps even more to have a great returner to help mitigate that weaker area.

Spock's picture

Kirk, I'd forgotten about Ty as a return man. That would work for me.

Tundraboy's picture

I have given up waiting for a returner to emerge. Has to happen eventually, as we are bound to stumble upon one at some point.

TXCHEESE's picture

I still think having a Janis type on KO returns is a better option than Davis. Bigger, stronger, and plenty fast. Someone who can break the arm tackles. That's typically when you see the big return. If the Packers keep him, let Cobb handle the punts. He has great hands and judgment, along with enough wiggle to make the first one or two miss. I just haven't seen enough from Davis to say he should be the one going into '18, but other than a handful of bonehead fair catches, he improved from the beginning of the year to end.

If the Packers do end up getting more experienced veterans as second/third tier backups that McCarthy eluded to, that should help the special teams in general.

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