With OTAs, it’s time to overreact to how players are looking in shorts with real games still months away! Each botched play represents your team going 0-17, while every touchdown means you’re Super Bowl bound.
Jokes aside, OTAs are a great way to see how position battles may shake out, who is getting new opportunities, how chemistry is building, and which players are really catching the eye. The focus tends to be on new free agents or draft picks, but it’s a blast seeing which veteran players are taking their game to new heights.
Such is the case with veteran cornerback and return man Keisean Nixon. He took special teams by storm once the Packers gave him the keys to the primary punt-and-kick-return jobs. In only half a season, Nixon gave Packers their best returner since Desmond Howard and received All-Pro honors.
But Nixon isn’t stopping there. He’s expected to have an increased role on defense this season as the team’s primary slot corner. He might also work his way onto the offense if his and Matt LaFleur’s tongue-in-cheek comments turn out to be more than a running joke. Can the veteran corner take another leap forward and do it all this season?
Nixon re-signed with the Packers on a one-year deal after becoming a star special teamer and a reliable rotational piece on defense. The Packers have noticeably struggled in the return game in the past — putting it lightly — until Nixon assumed the role.
Nixon’s 1,009 kick return yards (28.8-yard average, including one touchdown) and 140 punt return yards (12.7-yard average) were a revelation and played a large part in him getting another stint in Green Bay. But despite Rich Bisaccia finally gaining a weapon on kickoffs, that wasn’t the only reason the former Las Vegas Raiders corner came back.
Last year, Green Bay had a plethora of talented corners but no idea how to utilize them simultaneously. Jaire Alexander should really be following a team’s WR1, and Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas are best suited as boundary corners. Joe Barry rotated everyone in the slot, but there wasn’t a good answer.
Enter Nixon, who has the speed and flexibility to excel in the slot. Nixon played only 28% of Green Bay’s defensive snaps in 2022. But he made them count, showing grit and a willingness to tackle that the rest of the unit didn’t always display.
Expect that number to skyrocket in 2023. With Stokes still recovering from an injury sustained in Week 9 of last year and on an uncertain recovery timetable, Nixon will be one of Green Bay’s three primary cornerbacks. Alexander and Douglas should get plenty of time on the boundary while Nixon handles slot duties.
Nixon was already a standout on Day 1 of OTAs.
Nixon drew gasps by keeping up with speed-demon Christian Watson, beautifully covering Jordan Love‘s WR1. He later came off the edge and batted down one of Love’s passes, showing what he can do with more opportunities.
But with Nixon expected to be a starter on the defense, will his role on special teams diminish? It seems unlikely.
While the Packers did test out second-round pick Jayden Reed as a returner, Nixon is hungry to build on his success last season. And we know that, unlike in the past, Rich Bisaccia isn’t afraid to use starters on special teams.
When discussing his All-Pro season, Nixon told reporters, “I don’t even think about it cause I only had nine games there. Was it the best (in the NFL)? Yeah. But it wasn’t my best.”
It doesn’t sound like Nixon is keen on giving up that role anytime soon, and it’s tantalizing to see how he can build on his young returning career.
Nixon also isn’t afraid of the NFL’s new fair catch and touchback rule, calling it “irrelevant.”
“I ain’t never fair caught anything.”
Nixon and Matt LaFleur have both joked about having Nixon play some snaps on offense too. Given how dynamic of a player Nixon is with the ball in his hands, it wouldn’t be unsurprising to see Nixon get a few designed jet sweeps. Now that Aaron Rodgers is gone, this is the year for LaFleur to go deep into his bag of tricks and show what he can do without No. 12. Utilizing a dynamic player who can do it all would be a nice touch.
It’s still early, and we need to see how Nixon looks weekly as a starting corner. But if last year is any indication, Nixon might really be able to do it all. Green Bay has thrived in their pro scouting, with Nixon one of their greatest success stories. He’s a player to watch in 2023.