Through 14 games, the Green Bay Packers do not have a single consistent player that has been their reliable punt returner all season. With Trevor Davis opening the year on injured reserve, Tramon Williams took many of the early reps ,with Randall Cobb getting some opportunities when healthy.
Davis did return for two games, returning four punts during that time, but he quickly went back to IR. Jaire Alexander has four returns as well, but it has been quite a revolving door for special teams coordinator Ron Zook.
On Thursday, Zook answered a question about who would return punts on Sunday against the New York Jets by adding some more names to that list of options. “Somebody will be back there,” Zook said. I talked to Randall a little bit today. Jaire has been out there, done a nice job this week. 37’s done a nice job.”
Cobb is a question mark for Sunday, as he is in the concussion protocol and has not practiced all week. That would seem to suggest that Alexander or perhaps Williams would be the primary options. However, Zook referenced number 37, Josh Jackson, as a potential option as well.
Jackson had a good preseason, both on defense and special teams, but has been disappointing when the regular season came around. Still, a big return in an exhibition game — a 41-yarder — is worth remembering if he lines up deep on Sunday. He also did line up deep for one punt on Sunday against Chicago and muffed it (recovering it immediately), but given his ball skills his hands should not be in question.
There’s another defensive back on Zook’s mind, however, one who has exceptional athletic ability: Tony Brown.
“Actually, the guy that’s been starting to come on a little bit is 28. He’s given me some confidence in catching the ball back there,” Zook said.
Brown, who signed to the Packers’ practice squad after final cuts and earned a promotion to the active roster in late September, has gradually worked his way into a significant role on defense. He has 19 tackles in nine games, adding three pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Brown has not lined up deep on a punt return this season, however, nor did he ever return one in his four years at Alabama. Still, his testing numbers from the 2018 Scouting Combine suggest a player with dynamic movement skills who could be a true weapon as a return man, provided he can secure the football. Take a look at these numbers from Mockdraftable.com:
- 40-yard dash: 4.35 seconds (92nd percentile among cornerbacks)
- 3-cone drill: 6.78 seconds (79th)
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.11 seconds (62nd)
- 60-yard shuttle: 11.14 seconds (84th)
Those are some exceptional numbers, which put him squarely on our projected draft board for the Packers this spring. His 40 was a few hundredths of a second faster than Jaire Alexander’s, and he was within a tenth of a second of Alexander in the cone drill. It then came as no surprise to readers of APC that the team picked him up after final cuts. Now, in these final two games, he might start contributing in the return game as well.
These two games give the Packers an opportunity to evaluate players for 2019 and beyond. Cobb’s and Williams’ abilities on punt returns are already known quantities, and Alexander has had a few chances to show what he can do in live action. If there’s a chance that Jackson or Brown could become solid return men, the team’s coaching staff should give them every opportunity to demonstrate that in the final two games.