Packers bring back several core special teams players this offseason

In addition to the big free agent splashes the Green Bay Packers made by signing Xavier McKinney and Josh Jacobs, general manager Brian Gutekunst has also brought back several of the team’s core special teams contributors.

The most recent re-signing made by the Packers was to bring back Eric Wilson. In 2023, Wilson would lead the Packers in total special teams snaps with 308, and over the last two seasons, he had the most tackles as well with 25.

Corey Ballentine’s special teams role was a bit reduced last season at times because he was starting defensively. However, when that wasn’t the case, he was a special teams starter across four different phases.

Linebacker Kristian Welch was solely a special teams player in 2023, totaling the fourth-most snaps on the team, recording the sixth-highest PFF grade among Packers’ players, and totaling the third-most tackles.

Tyler Davis would miss the entire 2023 season with an ACL injury that he sustained in the preseason. This was a loss that Rich Bisaccia referred to as it being like the special teams unit lost its right hand. In 2022, Davis led the team in special teams snaps, starting on five different phases while finishing fourth in tackles.

Lastly, two-time All-Pro return man Keisean Nixon was signed to a three-year deal to return to the Packers. For the second year in a row, Nixon led the NFL in kick return yards and ranked third in yards per return. With Jayden Reed holding a prominent role on offense, we could potentially see Nixon’s role as a punt returner expanding in 2024.

In Bisaccia’s first season at the helm of the special teams unit in 2022, we saw the Packers jump from being ranked 32nd in Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings to 22nd. However, this unit took a step backward in 2023.

Overall, the Packers ranked 29th last season in Gosselin’s rankings. Due to the ups and downs experienced on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball throughout the season, the Packers’ special teams woes seemed to fly under the radar. However, this was a unit that battled inconsistency, at times couldn’t get out of its own way, and had the second-most penalties in football.

These special teams-centric offseason additions are a somewhat new approach for the Packers that began when Bisaccia arrived in Green Bay in an effort to turn this unit around. Previously, special teams was more of an afterthought with special teams-specific roles filled by fringe roster players.

Nixon, of course, has a path to contribute as a starting nickel cornerback, but his presence won’t stop the Packers from trying to bolster that position in the draft, either. Wilson, Ballentine, and Davis could be called upon to contribute on defense or offense if needed, but ideally, their primary roles will come on special teams—that is main reason why they are in Green Bay.

During this part of the offseason, re-signing players like Ballentine, Welch, and Davis can go somewhat unnoticed, but they are important when it comes to building out roster depth and elevating competition within position groups, with all three potentially playing a crucial role on special teams.

This is a Packers team with high expectations entering 2024. With what should be a very good offense and hopefully have an improved defense, the special teams unit doesn’t have to be the best in football by any means for the Packers to be successful. But they have to be better than what they were in 2023 if this team is going to reach its ultimate goal.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire