As we continue our look around the Green Bay Packers' 90-man roster and identify positions that will be up for grabs this summer, we shift our focus to the special teams today. Specifically, we examine the kick return and punt return jobs which have been held by Micah Hyde and DuJuan Harris in recent years.
Harris was allowed to leave Green Bay this offseason and landed in Minnesota (because of course he did), but Hyde is one of two veteran Packers with extensive experience as returners in Green Bay. However, as you'll see here, there are a number of young players who have experience as return men in college while one in particular has a highlight-reel return from last preseason to show off.
Here's a look at the big names who will likely be vying for the right to return kicks and punts for Mike McCarthy and Ron Zook's special teams units in 2015.
Fifth season, Kentucky
5'10", 192 pounds
Though the Packers would probably like to keep Cobb's duties restricted to the offense from now on, the fact remains that he is the team's longest-tenured and most-accomplished kick return man. Most of his action in those roles came in his first two years, however; Cobb led the NFL in all-purpose yardage in 2012, his second season, and has three career return scores (tying him with the next man on this list). He holds career averages of 9.8 yards per punt return and 25.9 yards per kick return as a pro.
Third season, Iowa
6'0", 197 pounds
Though less effective returning kickoffs, Hyde has been even better than Cobb on punt returns. In his rookie year, he averaged 12.3 yards on 24 returns, then increased his average to 15.8 last season while taking two kicks to the house. His kick return average is a bit lower at 24.1. The one concern with Hyde seems to be his hands, as he was occasionally removed from punt returns in critical or late-game situations and replaced with Cobb. Also, had Hyde not been two returns short of qualifying for the league leaders, he would have recorded the top punt return average in the NFL a year ago.
However, this is Hyde's third year as a Packer, and it was at that stage in Cobb's career that he was somewhat phased out of the return game (though his broken leg in 2013 also accelerated that move). It's possible that, given the talent of the younger players, Hyde may be asked to shift his focus away from returns this year as well.
Second season, Wisconsin
6'1", 195 pounds
After a season lost to injured reserve, Abbrederis will look to make a mark on special teams this season much in the same way he did for the Badgers in 2010 after his redshirt season. His best year as a returner in college came as a sophomore (on the 2011 squad that included Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, and company), when he averaged 15.8 yards on punts and 24.6 yards on kickoffs. He was used less on those units as his role in the offense grew as an upperclassman, but the natural vision as a return man is evident.
Second season, Saginaw State
6'3", 219 pounds
Janis' projection as a return man is largely based on the splash plays he made in the preseason a year ago. His fluidity and top-end speed are plain to see in this highlight from the final preseason game, and Mike McCarthy even said that he considered activating Janis late last season for kickoff returns. If he and Abbrederis crack the rotation, it seems likely that Janis would work on kickoffs while Abbrederis handles punts.
6'0", 216 pounds
Now we get to the newest and most productive collegiate returner on the team. This year's third-round pick averaged an impressive 27.4 yards per return on kickoffs throughout his collegiate career, with three touchdowns. He then added punt returning to his repertoire as a senior, taking two of his 12 returns to the house and averaging just shy of 20 yards apiece.
Though he has made it clear that he is happy to contribute on special teams in any capacity, Montgomery's track record as a returner speaks for itself, and it seems likely that the Packers will give him every opportunity to earn the returner jobs in training camp as Cobb and Hyde continue to expand their roles on offense and defense respectively.
Damarious Randall - this year's first-round pick handled just a few punts at Arizona State, but was a star as a returner in community college, averaging 18.4 yards per punt return in 2012 and 28.2 yards per kick return.
Jimmie Hunt - the undrafted receiver only returned nine kicks in his college career, but he did take one back 87 yards for a touchdown as a sophomore against Tennessee.
Javess Blue - another undrafted wideout, Blue was the primary kick return man for Kentucky as a junior in 2013, averaging just over 20 yards per kickoff return.
Overall, I would expect a rotating mix of returners for the Packers this season. Frankly, there is a vast amount of talent available, and it seems like a waste to not put it to use. Assuming all the top options make the roster, I would expect to see a rotation between Hyde, Abbrederis, and Montgomery taking punts (depending on gameday inactives and other factors), while Montgomery and Janis split time taking kicks. This certainly seems to be a year where six wide receivers make the team, given the ability of each one to contribute on special teams.
Stats were retrieved from Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference/College Football unless otherwise noted.