Unlike a year ago, when the Green Bay Packers experienced a lot of turnover on special teams, this year’s group will return many of its key contributors, providing this unit with continuity and a jumping-off point from an improved 2022 season.
In Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings, the Packers’ 2022 unit finished 22nd. Although that still ranks in the bottom third of the NFL, this is a group that took some time to hit their stride and were playing much better than the 22nd-ranked unit by the end of the season.
Thier performance was also a far cry from what we saw in 2021 when the Packers’ special teams ranked 32nd and played a major role in Green Bay’s playoff loss to San Francisco. It’s also not as if 2022 was the Packers’ first poor season. In Gosselin’s rankings, they had finished 29th in 2020, 26th in 2019, and 32nd in 2018.
As a result of the consistently poor play over the years, a number of needed changes came to the special teams unit last offseason. This included the hiring of Rich Bisaccia and heavy roster turnover. The Packers’ top four players in terms of special teams snaps from 2021 were not on the 2022 team, and 10 out of the top 13 players on the team in tackles were gone as well.
This year is a different story, however. In terms of total special teams snaps, only two players, Mason Crosby at No. 9 and Jack Coco at No. 10, won’t be back, and the top 12 players in tackles, according to PFF, are all on the current roster.
As is the case on offense and defense, continuity on special teams is important. As players become comfortable with the system and their roles, they play faster, which can lead to big plays, and it allows the coaching staff to go deeper into the playbook or add more wrinkles. Although this is not an apples-to-apples comparison by any means, an example of this would be the Year 2 version of the Matt LaFleur offense that was greatly improved over the first season.
In order for this special teams unit to improve, it was going to require more than just the addition of Bisaccia. The Packers, as an organization, also had to prioritize special teams. For many years, this phase of the game was an afterthought, and the results on the field often reflected that.
But this offseason, in particular, special teams was very much an emphasis. In free agency, Green Bay would re-sign Eric Wilson, Dallin Leavitt, Corey Ballentine, Keisean Nixon, and Rudy Ford, all of whom were top 10 on the team in tackles, with Nixon being an All-Pro return man. The Packers would also sign Tarvarius Moore, a core special teams player for San Francisco last season.
The big question mark for the Packers on this unit now lies at kicker, with them relying on rookie Anders Carlson, who has a big leg but battled injuries and inconsistency at Auburn. With that said, this was a selection that Bisaccia signed off on, given his familiarity with Carlson after working with his brother Daniel Carlson in Las Vegas. Bisaccia also mentioned that he liked Carlson’s big-game experience in the SEC and his mental makeup.
Green Bay seems willing and prepared to weather the potential storm that comes from relying on a young kicker, but as far as the rest of this special teams unit goes, from the return to the coverage units, we could see a Year 2 leap under Bisaccia, as this group goes from a liability to a potential strength.