Your Green Bay Packers currently have something they’ve lacked for quite a while: a legitimately good kick returner. Yes, following a long, fallow period of fielding a menagerie of league average (if that) returners, Keisean Nixon has quickly and emphatically announced his presence as the guy who’s making special teams fun again in Green Bay. Even before last week’s 105-yard touchdown, Nixon was breaking off huge returns.
Keisean Nixon 105 YARD TD pic.twitter.com/8Pqwtw1C9D
— alex (@highlghtheaven) January 1, 2023
With just 31 kickoff returns as a Packer to this point, he’s already cracked the top 30 on the franchise’s all-time kick return yardage list. Also, his current average of 30 yards per return is THE HIGHEST IN PACKERS HISTORY among players with more than five returns. Did we mention Nixon didn’t even return a kickoff for Green Bay until Week 6 and didn’t become the regular return guy until Week 8? In short, he’s very good at this very specific and very important component of the game.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 25, 2022
Though it’s been a while, Nixon isn’t the first good Packers kick returner. There have been a few guys—both in recent decades and way back in the team’s history—who have been instrumental in the field position battle by way of commendable kick returns. Before we get started, let’s just put it all other there:
1. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just some standouts we want to acknowledge.
2. We’re focusing on players best-known for their work as returners—hence the omission of Herb Adderley, Robert Brooks, Randall Cobb, and even Najeh Davenport. Deal with it.
3. The most import one! We’re NOT WRITING ABOUT PUNT RETURNERS. It’s Friday afternoon and we have better shit to do than double our workload on a niche article. If someone brings a punt to the house on Sunday, maybe we’ll do a punt returner article, cool? Not cool, you say? Okay, Will Blackmon was a good punt returner. Happy now?!
Now that the ground rules have been set, let’s get into this short and sweet list of good kickoff returners from Green Bay Packers past.
Keisean Nixon (2022-?)
We’ve already talked about him. Dude rules. NEXT!
Desmond Howard (1996)
Howard was so outstanding in 1996 (and especially on January 26, 1997) that we left him off the first edit of this list. He’s so unforgettable that we forgot to remember him. Does that even make sense?! Anyway, dude rules. NEXT!
Steve Odom (1974-79)
Though he was also a receiver, Odom never had more than 27 receptions in any season of his nearly-six-year Packers tenure. As a returner, though, Odom has a franchise-record 4,124 kick return yards and two touchdowns—including a 95-yard scamper. He also had a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown, but as we mentioned earlier, we’re NOT talking about punt returns here. Thanks to his prowess as a kick and, yes, punt returner, Odom was selected to a Pro Bowl in 1975.
Al Carmichael (1953-58)
While he saw some time as a backup halfback during his six seasons in green and gold, Al Carmichael was a returner first and foremost. He’s second in all-time kick return yards among Packers, trailing Odom by just over 200 yards despite having 26 fewer returns. Like Odom, Carmichael returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, one of which was a then-NFL-best 106-yard score. He also scored the first touchdown in Denver Broncos history when he left Green Bay and was a professional stunt double after his reckless days as a returner were through.
Travis Williams (1967-70)
He might have a “create a player” sort of name, but Travis Williams as far from bland as a kick returner. His FIVE kick return touchdowns are the most in Packers history. He also averaged 26.7 yards per return (in 77 total kickoff returns). Yeah, he was a backup running back as well, but only averaged about 250 rushing yard per season in his four years with Green Bay.
Allen Rossum (2000-01)
Like Nixon, Allen Rossum was technically a defensive back. However, he made his mark and earned his roster spot on the strength of his skills as a returner. He spent two seasons of his 12-year career with Green Bay, where he returned 73 kickoffs for 1,719 yards and a touchdown of the 92-yard variety. Rossum also returned a punt for a touchdown with the Packers but…you know the rest.
Roell Preston (1997-98)
Part-time Packers receiver Roell Preston was also a Pro Bowl kick returner. In 1998, his only full season as Green Bay’s returner, Preston had 57 kickoff returns for 1,497 yards (a solid 26.3-yard average) and two touchdowns. He also had a 71-yard punt return for a score that season if you’re into that kind of thing.
Joe Francis (1958-59)
About 15 years before predatory monster Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild infamy was born, the Packers had a backup quarterback also named Joe Francis. For reasons we neither know nor care to look up, the Hawaiian-born QB wound up returning two kickoffs for a total of 52 yards. It’s a small sample size, but we’re not going to leave a little-used quarterback with a 26-yard per return average off this list!