Packers "Vetting" Rookie Kylin Hill as Kick Return Candidate

This Green Bay Packers kick return unit needs a real boost, and according to special teams coach Maurice Drayton, the team is looking at Kylin Hill as an option.

New special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton has a tall task in front of him of trying to revitalize this Green Bay Packers special teams unit. 

Overall, Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated, who comes out with his yearly special teams rankings, listed the 2020 Packers unit 29th out of the 32 NFL teams. Pro Football Focus wasn't any better, with Green Bay's special teams unit also ranking 29th by their metrics. 

Pretty much every facet of this special teams group has to improve, and that goes for the kick return unit as well. Last season, with Darrius Shepherd, Tyler Ervin, and Malik Taylor taking a bulk of the return attempts, the Packers 18.8 yards per return ranked 31st, while their longest return of 34 yards was tied for 29th.

Now, sure, it's not only the return men's fault; their blockers need to give them lanes to run through after all. But having a more explosive player with big-play potential will also go a long ways in helping to improve this unit.

Enter seventh-round rookie Kylin Hill. 

When meeting with reporters on Sunday, Drayton mentioned that the team was leaning towards Amari Rodgers as the punt returner -- which shouldn't come as much of a surprise -- be also mentioned that they were "vetting" Hill when it came to the kick return game.

"In the kickoff-return game, we're really vetting 32, Mr. ( Kylin Hill )," said Drayton via Packers.com. "It's going to play itself out and we have a lot of other guys who are putting in work in the return area."

During Hill's four years at Mississippi State, he never even attempted a kick return, or a punt return, for that matter. But when he has the ball in his hands, it's easy to see the playmaking ability that he possesses.

I've been able to attend a few training camp practices, and right away, you notice when Hill has the ball. He shows excellent initial burst along with some evasiveness and wiggle when in the open field. 

In his draft profile, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network would note that Hill "immediately turns upfield" and that he "runs north and south." Jordan Reid of The Draft Network echoed similar sentiments when describing Hill's game--which, according to Drayton, is a needed skill-set when it comes to being a return man:

"He (Hill) has an even-keel demeanor right now. He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low, and he has the ability to stick his foot in the ground and get vertical. That is awesome as a returner when it comes to setting up blocks."

Drayton would also acknowledge Hill's inexperience in this role, and that certainly could lead to some hiccups. Fielding the kick, ball security, vision, and making sure his teammates have time to set up their blocks are all important factors as well--not only what he can do with the ball in his hands. 

With that said, everything I just mentioned comes with being an NFL running back, so it's not as if any of it is completely foreign either--it's just in a different capacity than what Hill is accustomed to.

As Drayton mentioned, there are other players that they're looking at for this role outside of just Hill, but from the sounds of it, Green Bay does really like what he can add to the return unit. 

At this point, it is all about Hill getting in as many reps as he can over the next few weeks, with the preseason games being the true litmus tests. While perhaps this wasn't expected, it's easy to see why the Packers want to get the ball in Hill's hands on the kick return unit--and hopefully, if he does win the job, he can play a role in turning this struggling unit around.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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6 points

Comments (22)

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

August 09, 2021 at 11:21 am

I love Kylin Hill's running style, and if that translates to KR, all the better. This player finds his seams and goes, able to adjust well in the open field too. What a gem of a pick from this year's R7.

Hill's got good enough hands as a receiver as well, which should help. Not one to fumble either. Very secure ball handler. I believe he only had 1 fumble in his entire college career at Mississippi State? Thought I read that somewhere. His stats show zero...

14 points
14
0
Coldworld's picture

August 09, 2021 at 11:20 am

I’m not thrilled at using a guy who has no experience as a returner, however talented with the ball he is. So much is about not dropping the ball or making a poor decision.

It is not all that often kicks are returned these days, so it is not likely we would carry a kick returner for that role primarily. That doesn’t leave a lot of obvious options among the roster favorites (Thompkins probably is fighting for a PS role at best). They also referenced trying Taylor: he had one kick return of 4 yds in college, so in the same boat.

The problem with a makeshift solution is that kickers can choose to make a returner return. The modern assumption that not many kicks get returned unless opponents think that you are an accident waiting to happen back there. As we saw last year, bad returners can cost more by encouraging short kicking. Hill and Taylor are going to get tested if one doesn’t put down a marker in pre-season. If one does, he could quickly become a lock. If Williams isn’t being tried this year, it’s hard to see him make it if either of the others do succeed.

3 points
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greengold's picture

August 09, 2021 at 11:24 am

I understand where you're coming from there, but Hill is pretty solid with ball security, and has unique abilities to move forward through traffic. It's not like we have a ton of options at the position. Thought maybe Christian Uphoff had good experience for the job. He's got the experience, but with far lesser competition.

3 points
3
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Coldworld's picture

August 09, 2021 at 11:39 am

I am not criticizing Hill or Taylor’s ball security or abilities once the ball is secured. It’s the fact that that often has little to do with the ability to catch under pressure or make good decisions, which should be the first prerequisite in any returner. I’d rather have Cobb back there if there is any doubt. Like I said, let’s see if either can put down a marker in the 3 pre season games.

3 points
3
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Leatherhead's picture

August 09, 2021 at 07:02 pm

“……pretty solid with ball security “…….

I recall at least two games where a turnover on a kick return hurt us badly. Against Indy last year, it was one of four and then, of course, Montgomery’s Boner. I recall Tramon Williams coughing up a return on a punt in a loss.

We usually don’t return if the kick goes into the end zone…..we almost got burned when Jamaal Williams let a ball land short and it took a ridiculous hop and we almost lost it. Chicago, I think.

Teams kick off against us about 4 or 5 times a game, but we only return about two. I do think sometimes coaches kick it short to force a return in hopes of a fumble, and I actually like that trick, because the percentages are pretty clear that you’re going to cough it up way more often you hit a big return.

If we’re going to have to return a short kick, we need a guy who will not turn it over. That’s the only thing I care about . I don’t care if we’re on the 20, 25,or 30 as long as we have our offense on the field with a first down.

1 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

August 10, 2021 at 06:39 am

Looking at Uphoff physical build at Family Night I just dont see it, but what do I know?

Hill seems to have the right physique and running skills to be ideal for returner. As the likely #3 RB the role would be perfect for him.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 09, 2021 at 09:12 pm

Coldworld, I like the way you said that. It’s not about winning games with your kick return unit, it’s about not losing them. I’d be willing to bet that you lose most of the games where you fumble or muff a kickoff.

3 points
3
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PatrickGB's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:16 pm

It doesn’t matter who returns the ball if the blockers on ST’s don’t do their jobs. What I want to see is improved play from the rest of the players on teams.

12 points
12
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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:24 pm

A worthy experiment - to improve what is a dismal area of special teams production (kick returning). We know that Malik Taylor is not the answer as he has no evasiveness and little field vision. Also if Hill can show that he can return kicks, it all but guarantees his spot on the 53 - as a 3rd back and KR - which is the versatility that Gutekunst likes to have in a player.

9 points
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Ryan3468's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:37 pm

If a guy like Kylie Hill can become a returner than Dexter Williams days are numbered.

8 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:51 pm

Most teams in the NFL average between 20-25 yards/return. Green Bay averaged 18.9. Clearly, we need a guy who can take one extra step and fall forward. That’s the missing piece, for sure.

The mighty Detroit Lions averaged 24.9. Those extra six yards certainly helped them win games.

-1 points
2
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flackcatcher's picture

August 09, 2021 at 02:23 pm

While I happen to agree on your theory on Special Teams, it is clear the Packers don't. So as Patrick says, let's hope the Packers get some good players who can play the lead blocking role well. (OH and yes, GOOD HANDS for their PR and KR people, let's not make every put and kick return and damn adventure)

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

August 09, 2021 at 02:45 pm

I wouldn’t say the Packers disagree. We returned fewer punts than any team in the league, and we don’t return kickoffs from the end zone.

1 points
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Razer's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:54 pm

Why not Randall Cobb? I remember his first game at Lambeau and returning a kick-off from the end zone. The team will need more from him than part-time slot receiver. Might also give him a chance to show that he can contribute to the team in all areas of need.

2 points
3
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dblbogey's picture

August 09, 2021 at 01:32 pm

Because he now runs about a 4.7 40?

3 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 09, 2021 at 02:51 pm

Because Cobb ST = Cobb IR

5 points
6
1
Since'61's picture

August 09, 2021 at 12:55 pm

We need to find somebody who can at least get back to the 20 yard line on KOs that do not go into the end zone. Our return blocking needs to improve as well.

Any KO that goes into the end zone should not be returned. With Aaron Rodgers and the offense potential that we have there is no reason to take the risk of starting inside our own 25 yard line or having a turnover on the return. Obviously if the KO is short of the end zone we need to make a return. But Drayton needs to get the entire unit synched up and make blocks so that whoever the returner is can at least get back to the 20 - 25 yard line. Over the years we have started far too many drives with poor field position. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

2 points
3
1
HarryHodag's picture

August 09, 2021 at 01:25 pm

A key point in this is if Hill is retained as the returner, that means he also likely is the number 3 running back. I doubt they would keep a roster spot for one player to just return kicks.

Regardless of what Rodgers thinks about the personnel dept., this team is stocked with talent in most positions and running back is one of them.

5 points
7
2
LambeauPlain's picture

August 09, 2021 at 01:56 pm

Given all tremendous balance between run/pass as well as 12 and 22 personal, I can see the Pack keeping 4 RBs. I do not think they need 6 WRs for these reasons as well. And 4 TEs...just too much talent and Matt likes to play 2 TEs.

I hope Hill makes the 53. Exciting runner in college. So was Taylor.

Packers really have some stacked rooms again this year.

4 points
4
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nostradanus's picture

August 09, 2021 at 09:59 pm

The Packers special teams have been abysmal for decades.
Nowhere to go but up boys.
Go Pack
ND

3 points
3
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

August 10, 2021 at 06:42 am

At Family Night it was virtually impossible for me to distinguish between Kylie Hill and Aaron Jones running style. Believe Hill is going to impress everyone. Sticking him at returner is a great idea.

1 points
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PAPackerbacker's picture

August 12, 2021 at 04:02 am

I watched some of his college highlights. He is an explosive runner and can make people miss tackles. Protects the ball well and doesn't fumble. When he finds a seam he can accelerate quickly. Good vision and adjusts to the blocking very well. If he can transform all his skills to the pro level he will be a great asset. He could be just what the Packers need on special teams as a return man and the 3rd back behind Jones and Dillon. Will be interesting to see who makes the 53 man roster. I'm looking forward to watching him play.

0 points
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