The Packers have found a bright spot at kick return with Keisean Nixon amidst their earlier struggles.
The Green Bay Packers struggled at the kick return position until about midway through the season before they released their former kick returner, Amari Rodgers.
After Rodgers fumbled against the Cowboys in Week 10, the Packers turned to Keisean Nixon for the remainder of the game. The following day, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that Rodgers would not be fielding punts anymore, and Rodgers would then be released a few days later.
The Packers had drafted the wide receiver Rodgers in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft. While in Green Bay, he had eight receptions on sixteen targets for 95 yards and seven fumbles.
Rodgers has since been claimed off waivers by the Houston Texans.
Rodgers’ struggles that stemmed from last season into this season had many fans questioning why head coach LaFleur was still using him. Rodgers was only in his second season in Green Bay and could not carve out a role on the team. He hardly saw the field on offense; he logged just 201 snaps in 26 career games. He was also a liability on special teams. He had returned 40 punts and 17 kick-offs but lacked the explosiveness and ball security necessary to secure a long-term job.
Speaking of Rodgers’ release, LaFleur had this to say:
"“Amari, that one hurts a lot. I know how much this meant to him. He did everything we asked him to. He was a great teammate. He worked his tail off. You could see him really growing in terms of overall knowledge. But we are in a production-based business, and it’s unfortunate. It truly is. I feel for him. He’s a guy I have a lot of respect for and care for deeply. I’m confident he’s going to get another shot. Sometimes that’s the best thing for guys in this league. You go through a little bit of adversity and get a fresh start somewhere else. I wish him nothing but the best.”"
As the head coach, LaFleur had to do what was best for the team, and in this situation, removing Rodgers from kick returns was best. Perhaps LaFleur kept Rodgers in that position for so long, despite struggles, because he saw the hard work he was putting in and did not want to give up on him so quickly, however, Rodgers had become such a liability that the inevitable had to happen.
Replacing Rodgers with Nixon is one of the smartest decisions LaFleur has made all season, perhaps one that should have been done sooner.
Keisean Nixon shines for the Packers at kick return.
Packers defensive back Keisean Nixon gained the kick return job amidst Rodgers’ struggles. Since then, Nixon has been a bright spot in the dull Green Bay season. This season alone, Nixon has 21 kick returns for 515 yards, the second most overall in the NFL. He is second behind Baltimore Ravens running back Kene Nwangwu, who has 24 kick returns for 620 yards.
Nixon is the only player in the NFL this season to have multiple 50+ yard kick returns in the same game. In Green Bay’s most recent game against the Eagles in Week 12, Nixon had returns of 52 yards and 53 yards, the latter being his longest of the season.
He also has the 9th most overall kick return yards by a Packer in a single game with 172 yards. He sits behind Allen Rossum and Tramon Williams, who, in a single game, both had 173 kick return yards; Rossum did so in 2000 and Williams in 2007. Roell Preston holds the record with 256 yards, which he achieved in 1998.
After Nixon’s performance against the Eagles, LaFleur had only positive things to say:
"“I thought there were a lot of great things he did. You felt his spark as a returner.”“He is fearless. Whether it’s on a kickoff return or a punt, he always wants to return it.”"
Although things seem bleak for LaFleur and the Packers, Nixon excelling as a returner will undoubtedly benefit the offense, whether Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love leads it.
Nixon also put in his work on the defense. He has 15 solo tackles, three assisted tackles, and one forced fumble this season.