Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is wasting no time filling the special teams coordinator opening on his coaching staff for 2021.
According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the Packers have promoted Maurice Drayton as their new special teams coordinator after it was reported Wednesday that LaFleur had fired Shawn Mennenga from the role. Drayton has spent the past three years in Green Bay as a top assistant for both Mennenga and Ron Zook.
The #Packers are promoting Maurice Drayton to special teams coordinator, source said.
Drayton has paid his dues, from The Citadel to Arena 2 to the Seinajoki (Finland) Crocodiles to the CFL and beyond. Now, he's an NFL coordinator.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 28, 2021
A transition from Mennenga to Drayton would mark the most significant change to LaFleur’s staff since he took over in January 2019, but there is still no word on whether Mike Pettine — whose contract expired when the season ended — will return as the Packers’ defensive coordinator for the 2021 season.
The Packers have not yet officially announced any changes to their coaching staff.
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A Look at Drayton’s Resume
An internal hire comes with some trepidation after how bad the Packers’ special teams unit has been over the past three seasons. Zook’s final season — and Drayton’s first in Green Bay — saw the Packers finish as the worst unit in the league, while Mennenga was only marginally able to improve upon that over his two years, ending up 29th in 2019 and 26th in 2020.
At the same time, it is hard to judge an assistant based on how his coordinator ran things. As Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reminded, Drayton was a candidate for the job when LaFleur picked his first special teams coordinator and impressed enough to be retained as one of the few holdovers from Mike McCarthy’s staff. He also comes with built-in experience on what doesn’t work for the Packers, given the failures of his former bosses.
#Packers asst. Maurice Drayton was a strong candidate when Mennenga was hired and has a strong reputation around the league. Just because he was the assistant doesn’t mean he would run things the same way. https://t.co/Ne89ajclo8
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) January 27, 2021
A promotion seemed to be the next logical step for Drayton after spending five years as an assistant special teams coach. Prior to arriving in Green Bay, he also spent two seasons as an assistant special teams coach for the Indianapolis Colts, working with Pat McAfee during his second and final Pro Bowl season in 2016 and helping rookie Rigoberto Sanchez make the All-Rookie team in 2017. He also coached four-time All-Pro kicker Adam Vinatieri during two of his 100-point seasons.
Drayton also coached for 14 years at the collegiate level before making his jump to the NFL in 2016, spending nine years at The Citadel.
Outside Interest Motivated Packers to Hire
According to Silverstein’s source, the Packers were motivated to hurry through the hiring process when it came to Drayton due to his growing reputation around the league, getting a sense that other teams were interested in potentially hiring him away. Rather than let it happen, LaFleur decided to act fast and secure his man.
The main reason the #Packers moved so quickly on hiring Maurice Drayton as ST coach is they were hearing other teams were interested in him and didn't want to lose him, a source said. LaFleur has said he wouldn't stand in the way of an asst. getting a promotion elsewhere. https://t.co/5oyRkPOUgh
— Tom Silverstein (@TomSilverstein) January 28, 2021
The question now is whether Drayton will finally be the answer to the Packers’ special teams woes. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has done a fairly good job of keeping their roster dotted with quick and athletic talent, and LaFleur has constantly preached the value of young players leaving their mark on specials. Will Drayton be able to build on the groundwork of his predecessors, though?
Drayton will also have some long-term things to consider, particularly with punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley. Neither delivered consistent performances during the 2020 season, and the Packers could benefit from adding some challenges for their starting roles. They have already signed both a second punter and kicker to their 2021 offseason roster, setting the stage for summertime battles.
The Packers will also need to establish a reliable returner for punts and kicks with Tyler Ervin and Tavon Austin — their two best options in 2021 — set to become free agents in a few months. The right talent may not arrive until after April’s NFL draft, but the responsibility will still fall to Drayton to improve the overall return optics.