Packers cut wide receiver Amari Rodgers and running back Kylin Hill, both 2021 draft picks

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – The hourglass emptied for punt returner Amari Rodgers on Sunday.

The Green Bay Packers couldn’t take another fumble from the 2021 third-round draft choice and informed him Monday night that they were releasing him.

The club announced that it had waived two players from the ’21 draft, Rodgers and seventh-round running back Kylin Hill, who spent the first eight games of the season on the physically unable to perform list and played sparingly in the past two games. To replace him, the club signed running back Patrick Taylor from the practice squad to the active roster.

Taylor spent the first seven weeks of the season on the active 53-man roster, before being waived to clear room for Hill. He has not had any touches yet as a running back this season, but serves on several special teams units.

The Rodgers release came after he coughed up the ball with the score tied 14-14 against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. It was the seventh fumble or muff of his career and fifth this season, two of which he lost and led to opponent touchdowns.

Hill’s release came after the Packers decided that he wasn’t performing up to their expectations. He is not expected to receive an offer to join the practice squad if he clears waivers. Coach Matt LaFleur said his release was not an on-field decision, indicating it was more about his fit in the locker room.

“Being a member of the Green Bay Packers is a privilege," LaFleur said, "and there are standards and expectations that are placed on every member of this team that we expect guys to live up to. I appreciate what Kylin’s been through, and I know it hasn’t been easy coming back from that knee injury that he suffered a year ago, that was a pretty devastating hit.

"He’s a guy we had some high expectations for, and I realize that he is in a loaded room. But regardless of your role – no matter how big or how small – we expect guys to come to work and just be supportive and own that role to the best of their ability. When you don’t do that, this is what happens.”

After tearing his ACL on a kickoff return last year against Arizona, he played just one snap on offense and eight on special teams this year. He averaged 19.9 yards per kick return and had 10 rushes for 24 yards and one catch for 5 yards in 2021.

The fumble at the end of Rodgers’ punt return against the Cowboys gave Dallas the ball at the Packers 45 and three plays later they scored to take a 7-point lead. The Packers rallied from 14 points down to beat the Cowboys, but Rodgers was taken off the punt return team in favor of Keisean Nixon.

Rodgers’ muffed punt in the first quarter of the Washington game came after the Packers took a 7-0 lead and held the Commanders to a three-and-out. Washington got the ball at the Packers 17 and wound up with a field goal that turned out to be the difference in a 23-21 loss.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers is tackled by the New England Patriots.

LaFleur and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia were extremely patient with Rodgers because they thought he had the potential to be a very good punt returner. He also fumbled twice and misjudged several punts his rookie year, but with the arrival of Bisaccia he had new life.

Despite shedding almost 20 pounds in the offseason, Rodgers never showed the open-field running ability that led him to average 13.2 yards per catch on 77 receptions his senior year at Clemson. He also averaged 7.8 yards on 68 punt returns in college without a fumble.

He averaged 7.6 yards on 40 punt returns and 18.9 on 17 kickoff returns.

"He did everything we asked him to," LaFleur said. "He was a great teammate. He worked his tail off. I'm confident he's gonna get another shot."

Had Rodgers been producing on offense, the Packers might have kept him around, but in two years he had eight receptions for 95 yards. He was drafted in the hopes of succeeding veteran Randall Cobb as the team’s slot receiver, but it never happened.

The coaches never had a beef with the effort Rodgers put in and his affable personality endeared him to other players in the locker room.

“It was very unfortunate,” said Cobb, who got to know Rodgers through his father, Tee Martin, when Martin coached receivers at the University of Kentucky. “But that’s the business we’re in. I love the kid. He’s a great kid. He goes about things the right away. He prepares the right way.

“He puts in the extra work, but this is a production-based business. Unfortunately, things happen in the business and I wish him well and I hope whatever opportunity comes following or wherever life takes him that he continues to press and be the best version of himself.”

Given he was going to lose the punt return job, the Packers decided to make a clean cut with him and appear to have committed to Nixon even though he hadn’t returned punts in the NFL until Sunday. However, Nixon was impressive on kickoff returns with a 21.4 average.

Another option the Packers have is veteran Dede Westbrook, who was signed to the practice squad Tuesday. Westbrook was a fourth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017 and played with the Minnesota Vikings last season. He has 170 catches for 1,788 yards and nine touchdowns, but more importantly for the Packers, he averaged 9.3 yards on 69 punt returns and 18.0 yards on seven kickoff returns.

He has been a free agent since the end of last season and reportedlyturned down an offer to return to the Vikingsthis off-season. With the release of Rodgers, the Packers have an opening on the 53-man roster, but its likely they would elevate Westbrook just for the Titans game if they planned on using him.

The Packers are conducting walk-throughs instead of practice Tuesday and Wednesday and so they would probably not get a good sense of how ready Westbrook is to return punts. Nixon would not say whether he had been given the job as the team’s punt returner, but he said it was something he was excited to do.

“I’m excited,” Nixon said. “(Who they’re) putting back there, I don’t know the plan for the week. That was kind of on the fly last week.”

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Nixon’s first return was unconventional to say the least. He caught the ball above his head inside the 5-yard line. He managed to get the ball to the 11. On his second try, he returned the ball 13 yards, setting up the offense at the 33-yard line with 1 minute, 38 seconds left in regulation.

“I actually had a lot more time than I thought I had the first time,” Nixon said. “Just the velocity of the ball is different because the kick is higher (than on a kickoff). It’s just a comfort thing. I don’t think I was supposed to return it, but I did it anyway. Rich is probably mad. But I made somebody miss, so he probably isn’t mad at that.

“You make someone miss, you can’t be mad at that.”

If Cobb, who officially began the three-week practice window he’s allowed while on injured reserve, is activated for the Tennessee game, he would be an option for punt returns, also. Rookie receiver Samori Toure has also worked on punt returns in practice.

The Packers also announced that they had signed linebacker Tim Ward to the practice squad. Ward is an edge rusher who has seen time with the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. He has one sack in 12 career games. The Jets released him during training camp and he has been a free agent since.

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