In each of Matt LaFleur’s first three seasons, the Green Bay Packers have rostered at least six cornerbacks on the 53-man, including seven in 2019–so it’s safe to say that you can expect six cornerbacks on the 2022 team.
We know that the first three spots will belong to Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, and Rasul Douglas. I also feel confident in saying that Keisean Nixon will be on this roster with his experience on special teams under Rich Bisaccia, as well as the potential role he could play as an option from the slot.
For similar reasons, I also anticipate Shemar Jean-Charles making this roster as well, although I don’t expect him to play as big of a role on defense as Nixon. With that said, if you’re not yet sold on the idea of Jean-Charles being on this roster, I understand.
That leaves Rico Gafford, who just converted from wide receiver to cornerback, Raleigh Texada, Kabion Ento, and Kiondre Thomas battling for the final roster spot–or maybe two. And of those four players, it is Gafford who I believe is the most intriguing option.
The 5’10” – 184-pound Gafford went undrafted in 2018 coming out of Wyoming. There he was a cornerback, but in the NFL, he has been a receiver. During his NFL career, Gafford has only four targets with a pair of catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Most of his time has been spent on the practice squad.
The reason that I find Gafford an intriguing option is not because of what he can bring to the defense. Although, during his college career, he would allow a completion rate of 53% on 131 targets with six interceptions and 11 pass breakups; that was way back in 2017. More than likely, the move back to cornerback is going to come with a learning curve–and if on the roster, his defensive role would be small to non-existent.
However, Gafford does possess 4.22 speed and is someone who could be a special teams gem under the right tutelage, which it would appear the Packers have with Bisaccia.
Gafford has just 26 career special teams snaps — all of which came in Las Vegas under Bisaccia, by the way — and only one kick return attempt for 12 yards. At Wyoming, Gafford totaled seven kick return attempts and averaged 20 yards per return while particiaping in 244 total speical teams snaps in only two years, according to PFF.
With that speed of his, your initial thought may be that he could provide a spark to the return units, and I’m sure he will take some snaps there this summer just to see what he can do, but where Gafford could really shine is as a gunner.
A 4.22-second 40-yard dash is elite of the elite, and when it comes to being a gunner, getting down field as quickly as possible is the name of the game. During minicamp, Gafford has been taking snaps with the first team special teams unit, and as Andy Herman of Packer Report would note, he’s had some nice reps in that role–including flying downfield and recovering a fumble on a muffed punt.
Another important aspect of being a gunner is being a sound tackler. However, at this time, we don’t know how Gafford will fair in this part of the game–especially since he is converting from the receiver position. To some degree, this aspect is probably going to be a work in progress given the lack of reps.
Maybe the move back to the cornerback position for Gafford is like riding a bike, but odds are he is going to take his lumps as he adjusts to this position at the NFL level. This is why keeping him on the 53-man roster would be a move that is very much made with special teams in mind–and it’s clearly something the Packers have thought of. As a receiver, Gafford was not going to make this roster with how crowded that room is, but at cornerback, he has more of an opportunity to do so.
In past years, special teams have not been an area of emphasis for the Packers; things do appear to be a bit different in 2022. The hiring of Bisaccia signifies this, as does signing free agents Pat O’Donnell and Keisean Nixon–two players that Bisaccia is quite fond of. Bisaccia has also spoken highly of the incoming draft class’ ability to help on special teams, and early on, we’ve seen more starters participating in the third phase of the game as well.
All of which bodes well for a player like Gafford, whose contributions in all likelihood would only come on special teams.
Now, having said all of that, there is still a long ways to go with training camp and the preseason before these roster spots are determined, and who knows, maybe Ento, Thomas, or Texada really shine and earn that sixth cornerback spot. But given where we stand right now, Rico Gafford, his speed, and the Packers added emphasis on special teams make him a very under-the-radar but intriguing fit for this roster.
Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl.