With Jayrone Elliott on his way to Dallas, there is a big void now on special teams that needs to be filled. Elliott was the leader, the guy on every special teams unit that leads the charge. Now, it’ll be someone else. So let’s take a look at who that could be.
LB Kyler Fackrell
The most obvious choice here, Fackrell is already a mainstay on all the special teams units and was very good there in 2016. Say what you will about his work on defense in camp and preseason, his work on the more forgotten side of the ball has been exceptional. Leading the team in special teams tackles last year, Fackrell has the length and athleticism to run down returners in coverage as well as use his height to get into lane to block kicks. He is my personal pick to take over as the leader of the special teams.
LB Blake Martinez
After a promising rookie year with some ups and downs, Martinez comes into his second season at a sort of crossroads. There is no doubt that he will see time on defense in the base, but with the emergence of the Nitro package, he will likely see fewer snaps. That leaves him to make his mark on special teams. A smart, instinctive player, Martinez is more than capable of being the leader out there, getting everyone in position and also making plenty of tackles.
LB Joe Thomas
Much like Martinez, Thomas could be slowly phased out of the defense with the Nitro package. And while Martinez is the better communicator, Thomas is much faster and more agile, which is a major bonus for kick and punt coverage. Thomas came into the league as a likely special teams guy and hasn’t disappointed so far. He could see more action in the kicking and punting game, getting speed and hitting ability out there to make returners think twice about not fair catching.
RB Devante Mays
Mays is an intriguing power running prospect, but currently he is buried on the depth chart as the fourth running back. That leads to a likely season of being inactive unless he can become a special teams mainstay. Built for hitting things at full speed whether he as the ball or not, Mays could be a wrecking ball on kickoff coverage, and that might just be his ticket onto the 46 man gameday roster.
S Marwin Evans
Evans was a special teams stalwart last year, but with his continued growth as an all around defender, he should get a more prominent role. He may see some time on defense, but with safety being the most loaded position on the roster, it’s likely that he’ll get another year where he is mostly on special teams. And he is well-suited to it. Fast and rangy, he is good in pursuit and a willing tackler who isn’t afraid to try to make the big play.
S Josh Jones
Finally, we get potentially the biggest hitter on the team. Jones dominated special teams against the Rams in the final preseason game, consistently blowing up blockers and returners, showing his ability to be a heat-seeking missile. And that could be his main role early on in this season. Still learning how to harness his ability on defense, he needs to be eased into his role there, but in the meantime he can be that dangerous hitter on special teams, leveling punt returners or breaking through to block a punt.
So while we all likely see all of these guys on special teams making their mark, only one can be the successor to Jayrone Elliott. My money’s on Fackrell, but we shall see.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.