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Packers 2019 Acquisitions: Tyler Ervin’s arrival gave special teams a spark

The Packers’ return game was a mess for 3/4 of the season. Then one inspired waiver claim changed all that.

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. Today we continue this series by looking at the running back position.

The Green Bay Packers knew what they had at running back heading into the 2019 season. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were going to be the primary tailbacks and barring injury there would be few carries left over for any other options. Indeed, the team rarely suited up any tailbacks aside from those two players over the first three months of the regular season, and the two accounted for all but 13 of the team’s rushing attempts by running backs all year.

That didn’t stop the team’s management from adding talent last year, however. After selecting a young project late in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Packers found a dynamic athlete on the waiver wire late in the season, the latter helping to provide a jolt to the team’s return game as it headed towards the postseason.

Here is a look at how the Packers’ notable running back acquisitions fared in 2019.

Tyler Ervin

How acquired: Waiver claim from Jaguars on December 2, 2019
Stats (including playoffs): 3 carries, 35 yards; 5 targets, 3 receptions, 18 yards; 12 punt returns, 112 yards; 9 kickoff returns, 201 yards

Ervin started his 2019 with the Baltimore Ravens, landing on their practice squad late in 2018 and spending all of training camp with the team. When the Ravens waived him at final cuts, the Jacksonville Jaguars scooped him up, and he played six games with the Jags until they too waived him just after Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst saw Ervin’s return ability and made a change away from Tremon Smith. At the time, the Packers had accrued minus-8 net punt return yards on the season, a number that Ervin flipped on his first opportunity, a 10-yard return. Ervin suddenly provided the Packers with a spark on special teams, as he helped set up blockers well and used his speed to find creases, drastically improving the team’s numbers and overall look and feel on special teams.

Late in the season, Matt LaFleur got Ervin worked into the offense as well, identifying his speed and quickness as a missing element for that unit. While Ervin had no truly game-changing plays — Aaron Rodgers overthrew him on a couple of open routes in week 17 — he showed tantalizing ability both on jet sweeps and as a receiver out of the backfield.

Dexter Williams

How acquired: Sixth-round draft pick (#194 overall)
Stats: 4 games played, 5 carries, 11 yards

It was a tough go for Williams in training camp, as he seemed to struggle mightily during preseason action. Although the Matt LaFleur offense would seem to be a good fit for his skill set — a similar slashing style to that of Aaron Jones — Williams struggled in pass protection and drew some critical comments from his rookie head coach. Still, the Packers’ front office decided to keep him on as the third running back after final cuts.

But when the Packers needed a backup to Jones with Jamaal Williams nursing an injury in October, they called up Tra Carson from the practice squad and gave him the bulk of the backup snaps instead of Williams. That move underlined that the coaching staff felt the rookie was still not ready for significant playing time.

All told, Williams played in just four games, getting onto the field on offense for just ten snaps combined. As a sixth-round draft choice, the investment the team made in him was minimal, and they could afford to give him a de facto redshirt season with the success (and health) of the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. However, he will need to demonstrate in 2020’s spring practices and training camp that he has grown, or he will almost certainly not get a second chance in September.