The 2023 season will be pivotal for Green Bay Packers defensive back and return specialist Keisean Nixon. The former South Carolina star is coming off an All-Pro season as a returner but signed a one-year, prove-it contract with the Packers which means he’s again playing for his future.
Everywhere fans look at training camp, Nixon seems to be there. He remains the team’s primary kick returner after leading the league with 1,009 yards on 35 runbacks. His 28.8-yard average included a 105-yard kick return for a touchdown. The amazing thing is he didn’t take over as the team’s primary kick returner until midway through the season.
Nixon continues to compete for the punt returning job as well. His top competitor seems to be rookie, second-round draft pick Jayden Reed although several other players are also getting a look there in practice.
Last season, Nixon returned 11 punts after taking over for Amari Rodgers midway through the season. He averaged a healthy 12.7-yards per return. This was the first time Nixon returned punts in the NFL. While it wasn’t as natural or smooth for him as returning kicks, his fearless attitude, speed and elusiveness made him effective whenever he did run back punts.
Despite his outstanding season as a return specialist a year ago, Nixon views himself primarily as a cornerback. Right now, Nixon lines up with the first-string defense as the starting slot cornerback.
“I play corner,” Nixon told reporters during the first week of training camp. “Kick returning is fun, but I play corner. I’m good at it, but I play corner.”
Last season, Nixon played a career-high 289 snaps on defense for the Packers or 28 percent of the plays. He started four games and intercepted his first career NFL pass. According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks completed 69 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Nixon and had a quarterback rating of 85.7.
The Packers coaching staff appreciates Nixon’s team spirit. Since training camp started, he’s lined up opposite Reed when the rookie takes snaps as the slot receiver. Nixon has dedicated himself to working with Reed and trying to improve his game by being tough on him in practice.
“Especially with going against him in the slot, I told him as soon as he got here, I’m going to be on his ass every day,” Nixon told reporters when asked about working with Reed. “I said, he’s got to get me better out at practice and I’m going to help him get better.”
Because of his speed, Nixon can stay with slot receivers and cover them as they run across the field. At 5’10”, Nixon lacks the height the Packers prefer on the perimeter. His ability to change directions and stay with receivers makes him a strong candidate to play the slot.
Of course, Nixon doesn’t know yet what will happen when former first-round pick Eric Stokes returns from his knee and foot injuries. Stokes hasn’t started practicing with the team yet and remains on the PUP list as he continues to work on his own to rehab his injuries. The Packers indicated Stokes may be back with the team before the end of training camp, but it remains unclear what effect his return will have on the present lineup at cornerback.
While many football players would consider themselves busy if they were the team’s slot corner, kick returner and punt returner, Nixon wants to do more. Last season, he told head coach Matt LaFleur he could be effective taking some reps on offense as a slot receiver.
Last Saturday, Nixon took some snaps with the receivers at practice which seems to indicate LaFleur is at least open to exploring the possibility of using Nixon a few plays on offense.
Nixon continues to fight for as much playing time as possible at as many positions as possible. Right now, wherever fans look at Packers practice, they’re likely to see Nixon on the field. He is competing for a role on defense, special teams and even offense. Don’t bet against Nixon playing multiple roles for the Packers in 2023.
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