The Green Bay Packers signed defensive back Keisean Nixon to a one-year deal this past offseason and so far, they’ve gotten their money’s worth. The former South Carolina star was hired primarily for his special teams prowess but he’s also contributed on defense in his first year in Green Bay.
Nixon spent his first three NFL seasons with the Raiders. The Packers brought him in at the request of new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. Nixon was considered one of the better gunners in the league with the Raiders and the Packers desperately needed to upgrade their punt and kick coverage units which had been struggling on coverage for many years. Any help Nixon gave on defense was almost considered a bonus.
But injuries and circumstances led to Nixon taking on a bigger role on D. He has taken over as the team’s primary slot corner after Eric Stokes got injured and Rasul Douglas moved back to the perimeter. An injury to Darnell Savage also gave Nixon more playing time on defense. He’s even started three games on defense and managed his first career interception which helped the Pack clinch their win over the Bears last week.
Nixon also took over as the team’s primary kick returner after head coach Matt LaFleur and Bisaccia finally moved on from Amari Rodgers. So far, Nixon has provided the Pack with a big upgrade over Amari Rodgers who was often tentative and had difficulty holding on to the ball.
“He’s a fearless guy,” LaFleur said. “Sometimes I’m over there thinking to myself, ‘Surely he’s going to fair catch this ball’ — and he doesn’t. But that’s just kind of his mindset. He definitely doesn’t lack confidence.”
Thus far, Nixon is averaging 24.7 yards per kick return on 25 tries and 14 yards on four punt returns. Nixon had a pair of returns for more than 50 yards against the Eagles, giving the Packers something they’ve lacked in that department in many years.
The Packers haven’t had a kick return for a touchdown since Randall Cobb did it in his first career NFL game in Week 1 against the Saints in 2011. Nixon seems to give them a shot to break off a big one any time he touches the ball.
Nixon is also not afraid to return a kickoff that is five or more yards deep in the end zone. He believes he can break a long one at any time and quite often, he’s been right and has had some big returns on balls other return specialists would simply down for a touchback.
Bisaccia has also liked what he’s seen from Nixon so far. “Keisean’s really an athletic guy. He’s got great eye-hand coordination, and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Bisaccia said. “I’ve been around him a long time, so we’ll see how the next game goes, but he’s certainly going to get opportunities as we go forward. He’s always shown some of the things I just talked about — great confidence, great eye-hand coordination. We (just) want to make sure the decision-making process stays on course with what we’re trying to do.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also impressed with the extra dimension Nixon has brought to the return game. After the win over the Bears, Rodgers went out of his way to praise Nixon. “I also want to signal out Kei as well,” Rodgers said. “He’s been so important for us changing the kicking game. For a long time here, and I don’t mean this as disrespect, but it’s just the facts, for a long time when that ball is up in the air on kickoff, I’m thinking, ‘stay in, stay in, don’t bring it out,’ because just not a lot of good stuff happens. But I always tell Kei now when he’s about to go out there, ‘bring it out,’ just because he brings an extra type of juice to our football team. And you can win with guys like that. Guys that care about it, guys that are tough, and guys that make big-time plays. Kei had a nice interception to close that thing off.”
On defense, Nixon is still a work in progress. He has taken over in the slot after the benching and then injury to Savage. According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks are completing 68 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Nixon (17-of-25) and their quarterback rating is 85.1. He has been credited with two missed tackles but does give a strong effort at tackling every play. Thus far he has 20 total tackles including one tackle for loss.
Nixon will be a free agent after the current season ends unless the Packers decide to re-sign him. He is certainly making a strong case to be back in Green Bay in 2023 for the value he brings on special teams and possibly for his contributions to the defense as well.
He certainly has the right attitude. “Last week is over. I’ve got to do this again,” Nixon said. “Doesn’t matter what happened last week. It was fun, after the game, the next day. But that is in the past now. I’ve got to do it again. If I don’t do it again, it don’t matter.”
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