Tyler Ervin made a big impact as the Green Bay Packers’ punt returner last season, but had a small role in the offense. It should expand this season as a gadget player.
Tyler Ervin has some great traits that give him the potential to be explosive in the Green Bay Packers’ offense in 2020. First, he ran a blazing 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2016. There he also showed his vertical explosiveness, posting a vertical jump of 39 inches. Finally, and most impressively, he had a 130-inch broad jump which was in the 97th percentile among running backs. He also uses these tools very well as he is shifty in small spaces and can shake tackles with his elusiveness in space.
With all these great physical abilities combined with Matt LaFleur’s creativity as a play-caller, there is almost no limit to the number of plays that could be schemed up for Ervin.
First would be using him on crossing routes from the slot. At only 5’10”, he is not a physically imposing football player, but his quickness could be utilized well in the slot. Getting him running across the field away from linebackers in zones or simply beating his defender with speed against man coverage could be a great way to get him the ball on the run with room to do extra damage after the catch.
Continuing with simple ways to use him as a receiver, the next method of utilizing Ervin is deep shots. Down the stretch last season, Ervin was used as a vertical threat, but didn’t make a catch down the field and was targeted very little.
The Green Bay Packers do have other weapons they can target deep like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but if MVS starts the season like he ended it last year, expect Ervin to start getting the call on more deep routes. With his small frame, he’s not an ideal candidate to go get a deep jump ball, but his vertical jump could help him beat a smaller slot corner and he’s got enough speed to flat out beat a lot of guys too.
The final fairly unimaginative way to use Tyler Ervin is as a running back. Now, this would be extremely sparingly as the Packers already have three capable running backs on their roster, but he would give them an interesting change of pace in the backfield.
While most of his role since he came into the league has been as a returner, he was drafted as a running back and had over 500 rushing attempts in college. If the Green Bay Packers want to run between the tackles, they use someone else, but Ervin could line up in the backfield to run tosses and use his speed and acceleration to get to the edge of the defense quicker than anyone else.
Now that we’ve discussed all the ways that Green Bay could use Ervin in what would be considered a “normal” offense, it’s time to have some fun, starting with jet sweeps and end arounds.
Last season, he had three touches come from these plays including a big 18-yard gain against Seattle in the playoffs. Putting Ervin in motion prior to the snap allows him to get up to speed and take the ball in stride. When he’s at full speed, he’s tough to stop because he is so dynamic in space and can burn down the sideline or make a smooth cut inside of defenders looking to cut off the edge. Look for this to be a big way he contributes this season as part of the scheme to stretch defenses and make running between the tackles and play-action easier.
Finally, there are screens and this is where LaFleur’s creativity can really run wild. LaFleur showed a complex screen game last year, drawing them up for everyone from tight ends to running backs. Ervin can line up anywhere and be a threat to get the ball behind the line with blockers in front of him and make a big play.
First, is lining him up on the outside as a receiver and having him simply turn and get the ball when the corner is giving him a big cushion. The Packers have often used this kind of play as an extension of their run game and can be a quick five yards and a huge play if he can slip one tackle quickly. They can also line him up outside and have lineman run out to him as he runs in, creating a wall in front of him and hopefully some space to explode.
Ervin can also line up in the slot and run a simple bubble screen. This is also used when his defender is playing off coverage and he simply widens to the outside and gets the ball quickly while the receiver outside of him blocks the cornerback and attempts to turn him inside, creating a seam to run up the sideline. With Ervin’s quickness and acceleration, the receiver wouldn’t need to hold his block for long and the Packers have plenty of capable blocking wide receivers.
The final place he can line up is in the backfield. From there he can do a couple of different things. There are swing passes, which are also an extension of the running game and similar to a toss, but the quarterback holds onto the ball for a bit longer, hopefully freezing the defense for a count and giving Ervin time to get into space outside.
Lastly, he can run a slip screen, having the offensive line block for a count and then let the pass rush in and throw it over their heads to Ervin in the backfield who then has a convoy of blockers. This is where he is most dangerous as it is the best at getting him tons of space and blockers in front of him, similar to a punt or kick return which is really his comfort zone.
The name of the game for using Ervin is really getting him the ball in space. Occasional deep shots will present themselves, but getting him the ball where he has room to work and use his explosiveness as if it’s a punt return opportunity is what the Green Bay Packers really want to do with him on the field. If they can do that on a consistent basis, he can be a huge X-Factor for this team.