The Green Bay Packers are looking to add a player to fill a role the team has not had on their roster recently. Thus far, under head coach Matt LaFleur, the team has tried to fill this role with mixed results. But the fact that the team had a pre-draft meeting with a player who would specifically fill that role shows they may be looking to incorporate it back into the offense.
The role of gadget player on offense was a part of the offense LaFleur ran when he called plays for the Tennessee Titans in 2018. He tried to incorporate it into the Packers offense after he took over as the team’s head coach and play caller in 2019 but with mixed results.
Gadget players usually run jet sweeps, end arounds and screen passes. On special teams, they often return kicks or punts because of the overlap in skill sets between the two positions. LaFleur would often call a handful of plays each week for the gadget player who will sometimes be the primary focus of the play and sometimes be used as decoy.
When the gadget player goes in motion, the defense is forced to respond and reveal what kind of coverage they’re in. The pre-snap motion can also help the offense scheme open the gadget player or another player on the field.
By using a player in this role, the Packers can keep a defense off balance because they can run different plays out of identical formations. That keeps defenses guessing and the Packers can set up one play off a previous play called out of the same formation.
There were two major reasons for the limited use of the gadget player over the past four seasons. One was the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a big fan of pre-snap motion which limited the number of times the Packers could run these plays and the second was the lack of a player who ultimately fit the role very well.
The three players the Packers tried to use in this role most often since LaFleur became coach were Tyler Ervin, Tavon Austin and Amari Rodgers. Ervin played a total of 12 regular-season games with the Packers in 2019 and 2020. His most memorable performance came in the 2019 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks. In that game, Ervin had seven offensive snaps and ran the ball twice for 25 yards. A week later, he played 11 offensive snaps and caught one pass for seven yards. Austin and Amari Rodgers never really excelled in the role.
There are players on the current roster who can fill the role and who did, at times, fill it last season. Christian Watson’s speed makes him dangerous in this role although if he’s the gadget player, it removes him from his most dangerous role as a perimeter receiver. There has been speculation that Keisean Nixon could get some snaps on offense and the gadget player role is one he could fill with his speed and shiftiness. The Packers may want to save him for his role as a return specialist and nickel back. Running back Tyler Goodson may also have the potential to fill this role. The former Iowa star ran the ball well in the preseason but has yet to take a snap in a regular season NFL game.
The Packers had an official pre-draft meeting with running back Keaton Mitchell from East Carolina. Mitchell would be a perfect fit as a gadget back as he has 4.38 speed in the 40-yard dash. His lack of size, at 5’7” and 180 pounds, means he would not be the type of back who will get 20 or more touches per game. His speed and elusiveness were on display in college as he led the NCAA with runs of 10 or more yards in 2022 and was 13th in the country in missed tackles forced. Mitchell also caught 59 passes mostly coming out of the backfield, which is where Ervin, for example, often lined up during his tenure in Green Bay.
His lack of size would likely make him a day three draft pick. While the Packers visit with him doesn’t guarantee they’ll ultimately draft him, it does show that GM Brian Gutekunst has an interest in adding a player to fill this role. The Packers also need a running back because A.J. Dillon is in the last year of his contract and Aaron Jones is pushing 30 and may not return in 2024 depending on his potential willingness to restructure his contract.
Adding a gadget player for the offense would be a big help to Jordan Love in his first season as Packers starter. The fact that the Packers are meeting with Mitchell shows the team is interested in filling this role in 2023.
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