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Returner job may provide path to Packers’ 53-man roster

Someone has to return punts and kicks for the Green Bay Packers during the 2022 season, creating a job worth a spot on Brian Gutekunst’s 53-man roster.

Matt LaFleur confirmed Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones is just an emergency option at kick returner, so scratch him from the legitimate options. Receivers Randall Cobb and rookie Romeo Doubs – both roster locks – have gotten opportunities to handle returns early in training camp, and having one of them do it during the regular season could save a roster spot elsewhere. But Cobb is a veteran with an injury history and should be protected, and Doubs – one of the early stars of camp – might be carving out a real role on offense.

But all the others, including receiver Amari Rodgers and cornerback Rico Gafford, have an opportunity to earn a roster spot by winning the return job this summer.

Rodgers, a third-round pick in 2021, returned 20 punts and 11 kickoffs as a rookie last season but wasn’t good at either. He lacked burst and urgency and wasn’t completely confident fielding the football. After losing weight this offseason, maybe he’ll take a big jump as a second-year player and give the Packers a quality returner on special teams and a useful role player on offense; that’s probably the ideal scenario here.

If Rodgers doesn’t wind up being the team’s returner, his roster spot could be in real jeopardy.

Don’t sleep on Gafford, a converted receiver who is one of the fastest players on the roster. He returned kicks at the college level, so experience isn’t an issue. LaFleur said his speed could be a real asset on special teams, especially as a returner. And the Packers may need him to fill a depth role at cornerback, a thin position group behind the three rock-star starters. He’s made plays on defense during the first five days of camp and has been the first man up as a returner.

Former USFL receiver Ishmael Hyman is also getting opportunities at kick and punt returner, but he’s a roster long shot at this point. He returned seven punts for 78 yards as a member of the Michigan Panthers.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire