Over two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. Today, we examine the specialists.
If we could sum up the special teams performance of the Green Bay Packers in 2020 in one word, that word would be “oof.”
That might sound like a common theme and that’s because it is.
Shawn Slocum, Ron Zook, and Shawn Mennenga are the past three Packers special teams coordinators and the three coaches represent a triumvirate of incompetence when it came to their job. None of them presided over a unit that ranked in top ten. In fact they’ve only finished in the top 20 twice in the past eight seasons.
It’s a terrible track record and after the Packers dismissed Mennenga in January, they had better hope new coordinator Maurice Drayton can correct or he will just be another footnote in what is becoming a rather poor tradition for a franchise that is usually proud to be steeped in it.
Let’s take a look at the specialists for what was an overall forgettable 2020 in terms of special teams.
16 games, 16 starts
16 field goal attempts, 16 field goals (100%)63 extra point attempts 59% extra points (93.7%)
In short, Mason Crosby kept the Packers’ special teams afloat. He had a perfect field goal percentage in 2020 while also having the lowest number of attempts in his career. This is due of course to not only a much more efficient offense but also because head coach Matt LaFleur chose to be much more aggressive on fourth down (except arguably in the NFC title game which we won’t rehash here because we don’t want to).
If there is one knock on his 2020 performance it is his missed extra points. They didn’t end up costing the Packers big in the long haul, but his 93.7% conversion rate was second lowest of his career just behind the 93.6% of 2016.
If not for Crosby, the grade on this group would have been even lower than it ended up being.
46 punts for 2092 yards, 45.5 yards per punt
If Scott were given an old school progress report, the dominant comment would be “inconsistent performance.”
Nicknamed “The Weapon” by fans thanks to his powerful leg, JK Scott had as many misfires as he did on target hits. As inconsistent as he was, his 45.5 yards per punt average was the highest of his three year career. Like Crosby in field goals, he also attempted by far the fewest punts of his career with 46 which was way down from his previous high of 71.
Sadly Scott’s highlights of the year might be his feeble tackle attempts on long punt returns. There was that one against Keelan Cole Sr in the narrow win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the worst “try” might have been the one of Philadelphia Eagles returner Jalen Reagor. It took the internet by storm and not in a good way.
The Packers don’t pay Scott to be a hard hitter but come on, man. There has to be at least an effort that looks like, you know, an effort.
Kick Returns: Darrius Shepherd, Tyler Ervin, Malik Taylor (19.6 yards per return between the three)
We’re going to go ahead and combine the three main kickoff returners here because it was mostly the same story for all of them.
The season started with Tyler Ervin as the main returner after he all but brought the return game back from the dead in 2019. However Ervin failed to recapture much of the same magic that he had that season before missing half the season with an injury. He in fact finished averaging one yard less per return to the player that replaced him and earned many fans’ scorn.
Darrius Shepherd then took over was arguably the most disappointing of the three. His fumble against the Indianapolis Colts all but cost the Packers the game and while that didn’t have as huge an impact on the final standings as it could have, the Packers ultimately cut Shepherd and continued their search for a consistent kick returner.
It was then Malik Taylor’s turn and he was just slightly better than Shepherd although he didn’t turn the ball over.
In other words, the Packers are hoping Ervin returns to 2019 form otherwise they are back at square one once again in terms of a kick return man.
Punt Returns: Ervin, Tavon Austin (4.3 yards return between them)
When Ervin went down, the Packers scooped up Tavon Austin as their new return man. The hope was the speedster would spark the special teams and at least get the punt return game going in the right direction.
Spoiler: he did not.
Austin had some use on offense as a jet sweep runner (much like Ervin before him) but that was about all he did.
There really isn’t much to say about the punt returners for Green Bay other than “yuck.”
Overall Grade: D
If not for Crosby, it’s very possible our staff would have graded this unit an F.
It’s no surprise Mennenga was dismissed quickly as the writing was on the wall all season. Promoting someone from Mennenga’s staff raised more than a few eyebrows but reports indicating that Drayton was in high demand seem to show he may have been a drop of intelligence in a sea of incompetence. That should at least give fans some hope the special teams will be better in 2021
As far as the players, bringing Ervin back on the cheap seems like a possibility but starting over completely at the return game might be the better option. Assuming there is a preseason this year, that could be an ideal time for the Packers to find their next returner.
Don’t forget that’s how the 1996 team found Desmond Howard and we all know how that turned out.
As for the specialists, Crosby isn’t going anywhere but Scott’s return is anything but certain. Look for there to be a punting competition when camp opens with someone the Packers bring in via free agency because after drafting Scott so high in 2018, they don’t seem likely to go back to that well again.
The bottom line: there’s nowhere to go but up for the Packers’ special teams in 2021z