Keisean Nixon

Packers CB Eric Stokes Not Likely To Start

When former Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes was drafted 29th overall in 2021 by the Packers, he was immediately thrust into action as a rookie starter. He performed well as an injury replacement for Jaire Alexander and, at times, Rasul Douglas, but with both returning to form and healthy, Stokes may be coming off the bench for the first time in his career, according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic.

Stokes started 14 games during that rookie season when Alexander and Douglas missed a combined 18 games. He graded out well in coverage, recording an interception and 14 passes defensed and did well enough as a rookie to slot himself in as a starter over Douglas on the depth chart to begin his sophomore season. Unfortunately, after struggling through a bit of a sophomore slump, the decision was made for the coaches as an ankle injury forced Stokes to miss the final eight games of the season.

Now Alexander and Douglas are fully healthy and are both coming off strong seasons. Alexander continues to be one of the NFL’s top defensive backs, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), rebounding from his major injury in 2021 to grade out as the 8th best cornerback in the league. Douglas ran with the opportunity to start in place of Stokes on the outside and delivered a performance that graded him out as the 30th best cornerback in the league, according to PFF.

Schneidman also points out that cornerback and return specialist Keisean Nixon excelled down the stretch last season in the slot for Green Bay, likely solidifying his as the starting nickelback for 2023. He started four games for the Packers, with three coming consecutively late in the year.

So, after a down second season that saw him grade out as the 105th graded cornerback by PFF, it looks like Stokes will be coming off the bench to fill in for Alexander, Douglas, and Nixon in his return from last year’s season-ending injury. He may not be starting, but he’d be smart to stay ready. Although Alexander and Douglas both appeared in nearly every game last year (Alexander missed one), neither are far removed from injuries, and with Nixon’s heavy involvement on special teams, Stokes should earn ample time rotating in.

Packers HC Matt LaFleur On DC Joe Barry, Secondary Plans

When Packers head coach Matt LaFleur endorsed defensive coordinator Joe Barry in January, it was clear that he would allow Barry to lead Green Bay’s defense for a third season in 2023, despite the opportunity to pursue candidates like Vic Fangio, Ejiro Evero, and Steve Wilks.

In his first public comments since making that decision, LaFleur explained that in addition to continuity and staff chemistry — which he had previously cited as reasons for retaining Barry — the defense’s improved performance down the stretch of the 2022 season also played a key role.

“Our defense was getting better, it was progressing,” LaFleur said at last month’s owners meetings (via Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette). “I thought Joe was doing a good job of communicating with our players. I thought our staff was doing a great job together, putting our guys in a better situation, having just more clarity on what it is we wanted to be and our play style, and I thought it got better. I felt like that was in the best interest of us to bring all those (coaches) back.”

The Packers finished the 2022 campaign ranked 17th in both points (21.8) and yards (337) allowed per game, and for a defense that was expected to be among the league’s best, that qualified as a major disappointment. During Green Bay’s five-game losing streak in October and early November, it was reported that players were becoming frustrated with Barry’s scheme and play-calling, and LaFleur acknowledged that adjustments were not made as quickly as they should have been.

Still, after Barry simplified his play-calling, and after other tactical changes — like playing more press coverage and benching underperforming safety Darnell Savage — were made, the defense got better, and the Packers nearly snuck into the postseason. With Jordan Love set to become the club’s starting quarterback, it will be imperative for Barry & Co. to carry their momentum into 2023, and if that does not happen, then Barry could be out of a job and LaFleur will be subjected to plenty of second-guessing.

Another productive adjustment that was made in the second half of the 2022 season was moving Rasul Douglas from nickel corner to the boundaries (although that move was only made due to Eric Stokes‘ season-ending knee and ankle injuries). Per LaFleur, the team will utilize a rotation of Jaire Alexander, Stokes, and Douglas outside the numbers, and Keisean Nixon will get a chance to claim the slot corner position. Nixon has never been a full-time defensive player — his 28% defensive snap share last year was a career-high — but the coaching staff is clearly high on his ability and prefers to have one player predominantly occupying the nickel role.

Nixon did earn a First Team All-Pro nod for his work as a return man in 2022, and he was retained for the 2023 season on a one-year pact that can max out at $6MM. LaFleur said that the team will create an offensive package for Nixon in an effort to get the ball in his hands more often (Twitter link via ESPN’s Rob Demovsky).

The team’s plan for Nixon means that Savage is not, as had been suggested previously, presently under consideration to man the slot. Instead, Savage will get the chance to reclaim his job as a starting safety and to work alongside free agent acquisition Tarvarius Moore on the back end of the defense. Savage is entering a platform year, so his 2023 performance will have a major impact on his financial future.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/13/23

Today’s minor moves:

Buffalo Bills

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

 

Nixon was a first-team All-Pro returner for the Packers this year. He’s signed to a new one-year deal with a maximum value of $6MM, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Wharton’s new one-year deal is reportedly worth $2.03MM, according to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2. The contract has a guaranteed amount of $850,000 consisting of a $500,000 signing bonus and $350,000 of the base salary (worth $1.01MM total).

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/7/22

We will keep track of today’s minor moves right here:

Atlanta Falcons

Buffalo Bills

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Green Bay Packers

Jacksonville Jaguars

New York Giants

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Commanders

Saffold landed on the NFI list after injuring his ribs in a car accident. Getting their starting left guard back sooner rather than later is an important development for the Bills.

Colburn will take the place of Cottrell in the Jags’ RB room. The Wake Forest product played in four games for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars this year, garnering 102 rushes for 457 yards (just under 4.5 YPC) and eight scores.

Cottrell has seen action in each of the past two years for Jacksonville, returning seven kicks in 2020 and handling one carry in 2021.

Wolf and Parker get preseason roster positions after successful workouts yesterday. The Commanders are looking for depth at both positions as they work towards a 53-man roster.

RFA/ERFA Tender Decisions: 3/16/22

Here’s a look at the latest tender decisions from around the NFL:

RFAs

Tendered:

Non-tendered:

ERFAs

Tendered:

Raiders Place CBs Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette On IR

Injuries are set to deplete the Raiders’ cornerback group. Las Vegas will be without Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette for at least the next three games, with both having been placed on IR Saturday.

A foot injury left Mullen sidelined this week, while Arnette is dealing with a groin issue. The Raiders ruled both out for Week 5. This stalls a nice start for Mullen. For Arnette, this represents another setback in an underwhelming start to his career.

A second-round pick in 2019, Mullen became part of the Raiders’ Clemson-heavy draft that year. Mullen reprised his role as a starter this season, being a first-unit player in new DC Gus Bradley‘s defense. Pro Football Focus graded Mullen as a top-25 corner through four games, with the third-year defender joining Casey Hayward and Nate Hobbs in an atypically strong Raiders coverage corps.

One of this Raider regime’s surprise first-round picks, Arnette has not seen the field much in his second season. The Ohio State product has played just 60 defensive snaps through four games. While the Raiders tried him as a starter for much of his 2020 season, Arnette suffered a thumb injury during his rookie training camp and then aggravated the issue later. He played nine games last season. Thus far in 2021, Arnette has joined fellow Jon GrudenMike Mayock first-rounder Clelin Ferrell as a seldom-used backup.

The Raiders also activated running back Jalen Richard and cornerback Keisean Nixon from IR. Set to begin his sixth season with the Raiders, Richard returned to practice last week. It will be interesting to see how the Raiders use Richard, given Kenyan Drake‘s presence, but the shifty reserve’s re-emergence should at least help for depth purposes. Peyton Barber is set to miss time with turf toe.

Raiders Place LB Nick Morrow, RB Jalen Richard On IR

The Raiders are placing four players on IR. Running back Jalen Richard, linebacker Nick Morrow, and defensive backs Keisean Nixon and Javin White will be shelved for at least the first three weeks of the season, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). To take the open roster spots, the team has signed offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor and re-signed both tight end Derek Carrier and safety Dallin Leavitt. (via ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez on Twitter).

Richard has spent five seasons with the Raiders, including a 2018 campaign where he finished with 866 yards from scrimmage. He hasn’t been able to match that production over the past two years, combining for only 729 yards from scrimmage in 29 games. The 27-year-old is expected to be a primary backup to Josh Jacobs for another season in 2021.

Morrow had a career year for the Raiders in 2020, finishing with career-highs across the board. The linebacker has been dealing with a foot injury since late August, and he was expected to be sidelined for the start of the regular season. The team brought in some reinforcement at the position today when they signed veteran K.J. Wright.

Nixon has appeared in 29 games for the Raiders over the past two years, turning into one of the team’s special teams stalwarts. White, a 2020 undrafted free agent out of UNLV, got into four games with the Raiders as a rookie.

Raiders Sign 10 UDFAs

Teams continue to announce their undrafted free agent hauls. Here is the Raiders’ 10-man contingent:

Going heavy on offensive linemen after a nine-player draft did not bring any blockers, the Raiders added some big-school talent with extensive starting experience. Cotton started 28 games for the Crimson Tide, at both left and right guard, helping Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Raiders first-rounder Josh Jacobs to big per-carry numbers. McNeil has both guard and tackle experience and was a key presence (46 starts in a four-year career) in helping Lamar Jackson to two dominant seasons with the Cardinals.

The duo, along with James and Roemer, will battle to join 2018 second-round pick Brandon Parker among the Raiders’ backup linemen. With Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict signed to one-year deals, the Raiders’ Las Vegas tenure may need some new blood at linebacker. The Raiders did not draft one, so Coney (two 100-plus-tackle seasons with the Fighting Irish) and Farmer (28 starts with the Nittany Lions) figure to be candidates to stick around via the 53-man roster or, more likely, the practice squad.

Doss said he received better offers than what the Raiders proposed, but UC Davis’ all-time receiving leader opted to play for his hometown team (before it relocates to Vegas next year). Jon Gruden mentioned pre-draft that he wanted to add at least one more cornerback to the roster, but the Raiders drafted both Trayvon Mullen (in Round 2) and Isaiah Johnson (in Round 4). That will make Mabin and Nixon’s paths to the active roster difficult.