If At First You Don’t Succeed: Packers Change Kick Returners

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers are trying again to fix their feeble return units. Their latest attempt: claiming running back Tyler Ervin off waivers from Jacksonville and releasing Tremon Smith.

NFL Network was the first to report the addition of Ervin; he’ll have to pass a physical before he can officially join the team. The team announced it had released Smith, who averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return with Kansas City but never got close to breaking one in six games with Green Bay.

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Ervin was a fourth-round pick by Houston in 2016 out of San Jose State, where he returned three kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns. He hasn’t been as flashy in the NFL but he has been productive. In four seasons, he’s averaged 8.3 yards per punt return and 21.1 yards per kickoff return. In six games for Jacksonville this year, he averaged a miniscule 1.8 yards per punt return and 21.4 yards per kickoff return.

Green Bay is 28th in the NFL with a 19.5-yard average on kickoff returns and dead last with a total of minus-8 punt return yards. The Washington Redskins, this week’s opponent, are next to last with 90 yards on punt returns. Smith had the longest punt return of the season against the Giants – a 3-yarder that ended with a fumble. Smith averaged 23.3 yards on 13 kickoff returns and 0.0 yards on four punt returns.

General manager Brian Gutekunst had a strong run of roster moves to build a 9-3 team but has blundered at returner. Instead of sticking with Trevor Davis, who finished third in the league in punt-return average in 2017, he signed Smith and traded Davis to the Raiders. Davis is averaging 8.5 yards per punt return and 21.6 yards per punt return while adding seven catches for 83 yards and four rushes for 73 yards and one touchdown.

Could there be a reunion? The Raiders, who acquired Davis for a sixth-round pick, released him on Monday, according to ESPN.com. As was the case with the Packers and Smith, the Raiders released Davis after he fumbled on Sunday. He had fallen mostly out of the rotation on offense, as well.

Irvin is a home run threat. At the 2016 Scouting Combine, Irvin measured 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds and ran his 40 in 4.41 seconds. That made him the second-fastest back at the annual scouting showcase.

The Jaguars released Irvin so they could activate former Packers linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan suffered a torn ACL during training camp in 2018. The Jaguars signed him in free agency this past offseason but he suffered a setback in 2019 and was placed on the nonfootball injury list.