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Player Spotlight: Jordy Nelson

A detailed look at Jordy Nelson's fantasy prospects for 2015

NOTE: NELSON TORE HIS ACL IN LATE AUGUST, ENDING HIS SEASON. PLEASE DISREGARD ANY PRIOR ANALYSIS.


A King of Efficiency

One of the Kings of Fantasy WR Efficiency, Jordy Nelson has gradually developed into an absolute stud, on the field and on the stat sheet. Few recent wideouts have been able to match him in dependability, versatility – or in per-target production. So what kind of value does he bring into 2015?

We believe it’s probably enough to justify a mid-WR1 pick in the second round. His current ADP of 18th overall is acceptable, though not must-have. But considering his tendency to greatly maximize opportunity, his high floor is a meaningful factor in his favor. He’s probably more likely to maintain WR1 status all year than Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green, making him one of the most attractive options in the mid-second round.

As a Player

One of the pleasures of owning Jordy Nelson is not fretting extensively over what to expect. Since trumpeting his arrival as a legitimate star in Super Bowl XLV (where he deserved MVP consideration), Nelson has simply refused to let up. Here’s a rundown of Nelson’s year-by-year efficiency since 2011, his first true breakout season:

 

Catch Rate

Yd/Rec

TD Rate

PFF WR Rating (NFL rank)

2011

73.1%

18.6

22.1%

+15.9 (#4)

2012

69.0%

15.2

14.3%

+5.5 (#30)

2013

70.8%

15.5

9.4%

+16.6 (#2)

2014

67.1%

15.5

13.3%

+20.5 (#2)

The reason for Nelson’s excellence is simple: he blends elite big-play ability with otherworldly efficiency. He routinely posts efficiency numbers we’re used to seeing from slot receivers that make their livings on slants, screens, and dumpoffs – but Nelson does it while stretching the field and creating big plays. Since 2011, only DeSean Jackson and A.J. Green have hauled in more receptions of 40+ yards, and no one can approach Nelson’s 17 touchdowns from that distance. Simply put, Nelson and Aaron Rodgers have developed a rapport unmatched by many QB-WR tandems in NFL history.

But it’s the RED ZONE that boosts Nelson from a borderline fantasy starter to an elite WR1. Sharing the pie with Randall Cobb & Co. hasn’t hampered Nelson in the least; over the last four years, only three wide receivers have seen more looks from inside the 20. And his outlook here remains brilliant going forward. Only the Patriots have seen the red zone more often than the Packers since 2013. Touchdowns are the bane of your fantasy scoring, and since the majority of them come from within a few yards of the goal line, red zone hogs like Nelson are the ones to target.

There are only two real concerns with Nelson’s game for 2015 and beyond, but neither are overly troubling. Nelson underwent a cleanup surgery on his hip in May, one that reportedly carries a 6-8 week recovery timetable that would place him in action at training camp. But don’t expect much rust; Nelson missed most of last year’s camp after minor knee surgery and turned in his finest season to date. Make sure to monitor offseason reports, but this doesn’t yet have any whiff of significance.

A little more concerning is his age. Nelson turned 30 in May, which does present a bit of a dropoff: over the last 10 years, only 10 wideouts have posted seasons of 80+ receptions, 1,200+ yards, and 8+ touchdowns after their seventh seasons. But it’s comforting that few (if any) of them could match Nelson’s overall efficiency through their first seven years, giving him a floor that still hovers in the WR1 range. We believe that, if Joey Galloway could do it with Chris Simms under center, then Nelson is a near-lock with Rodgers flinging the ball.

Opportunity Knocks

Despite the high-flying nature of the Green Bay passing game, Rodgers feeds relatively few mouths. Aside from slot-man extraordinaire Randall Cobb and the long-gone Greg Jennings, no other Packer has seen more than 98 targets in a season since Nelson’s 2011 breakout.

While Cobb is a major part of the Packers offense – and his role isn’t declining soon, with a new contract in tow – he has yet to threaten Nelson’s workload. The two play completely different roles and co-exist beautifully; Cobb is the underneath and slot specialist, while Nelson runs mostly intermediate routes and takes the top off of secondaries downfield. Rest assured that there is no competition for targets between the two. Besides, the numbers game simply wouldn’t allow it. Cobb has drawn 7.9 targets per game over the last two seasons, giving him a 16-game proration of 126; to dominate looks over Nelson, he would need to launch into the 140-150 range, which simply isn’t realistic.

Some are concerned about the presence of Davante Adams, a second-round pick from last year who caught Rodgers’ attention quickly on the practice field. But while Adams was anything but golden as a rookie; the team utilized him in the same way as James Jones in recent years, as a situational outside threat asked to win very specific matchups on very specific occasions. (For example, when Nelson saw blanket coverage from elite cover corners like Darrelle Revis, Keenan Lewis, and Brent Grimes, Adams drew heavy usage across the field.) In fact, 72.4% of Adams’ yardage was compiled across four spread-apart games – he failed to top 21 yards in any of the other 12. When Jones was a Packer, he saw similar usage patterns as the downfield threat asked to exploit certain coverages. Adams isn’t small potatoes – the team almost certainly has real plans for his future – but he looks at least a year from really challenging the workloads of Nelson and Cobb.

Beyond Cobb and Adams, there’s really no competition for more than small, inconsequential chunks of the pie. Two late-round picks from 2014 – small-school workout phenom Jeff Janis and ultra-productive slot prospect Jared Abbrederis – are in the mix, but nowhere near statistical relevance. More than 30 targets or so for either would be a massive surprise behind the dominant top three wideouts. Rookie Ty Montgomery is intriguing, a raw but potentially explosive playmaker likely to challenge for return duties but little else. He’ll compete with Janis and Abbrederis for the opportunity to see the field once in a blue moon. The tight ends see plenty of red zone work but Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless can’t be projected beyond 70-80 combined targets.

So, it doesn’t look like Nelson is primed to lose much, if any, of his workload. Besides, Nelson’s ultra-efficient play could easily withstand a slight dip in usage. Take his 2014 target count and apply his catch, yardage, and touchdown rates over the last four years, and you’ll see that Nelson remains a strong candidate to stay squarely in the WR1 ranks:

% of 2014 targets

Tgt

Rec

RecYd

RecTD

2014 finish

90%

136

95

1530

13

WR3

80%

121

84

1352

12

WR5

70%

106

74

1191

10

WR10

 That’s a floor you can believe in.

Positives

  • Nelson is locked in as the nearly unquestioned #1 receiving target on one of the league’s highest scoring teams. He’s paired with the league’s best QB (by a mile or two), from whom he’s caught 39 touchdowns over their last 52 games. It’s hard to find a sweeter outlook than that.
  • Few wideouts in history have been able to match Nelson’s efficiency to this point. And that efficiency isn’t the whole story; Nelson has been one of the league’s top downfield and red zone playmakers for several years.
  • The Packers don’t seem likely to tilt their run/pass ratio much, if any, going forward. Eddie Lacy is a fine back, but the team has accrued very little usable depth or situational playmaking behind him. And Lacy’s extensive injury history is notable; if he misses any time, the Packers could lean even more on Rodgers’ arm and Nelson’s hands.
  • Green Bay projects to take on a relatively beatable schedule in terms of pass defenses. That includes two games against the Bears’ anemic secondary, as well as a handful of other matchups with teams (SF, DEN, OAK) that allowed high touchdown totals last year.

Negatives

  • Production decline for wideouts around age 30 is gradual but usually noticeable. Even though Nelson is more efficient (and in a better situation) than nearly any 30-year-old WR in history, it’s something to factor in when you’re deciding between Nelson and Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffery, and a handful of other promising stars at the front ends of their careers.
  • While Randall Cobb has probably already peaked in terms of usage, the Packers have hoarded intriguing young talent. Davante Adams looms to a degree, and any of the team’s other three youngsters could emerge as situational playmakers.
  • We’ve all seen our superstars cap mind-blowing seasons with duds in the fantasy playoffs. While Nelson draws some fairly modest secondaries for most of the year, he travels to Arizona in the fantasy Super Bowl to take on the inconsistent but occasionally dominant Patrick Peterson.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to find more consistency among the mid-to-low WR1 ranks than what Nelson offers. An elite downfield threat with plenty of intermediate ability, he trumps a bevy of deep-ball or underneath specialists, as few wideouts turn their opportunity into more dependable overall production. His role as the top offensive threat in a historically dominant offense cements him near the top of the fantasy board. There are reasons for (limited) pause, of course – Nelson is on the downward slope of the age/production curve, and the Packers offense has stockpiled a few intriguing young WRs. Assuming his minor offseason hip surgery pops no surprises, Nelson might be the safest with top-five upside to spare. He’s the type of second-round pick you never regret.

Projections

 

G

Rec

Yd

TD

Justin Howe

16

91

1383

11

Maurile Tremblay

16

95

1432

11

David Dodds

16

90

1350

12

Jason Wood

16

95

1450

11

Bob Henry

16

90

1380

11

Other Viewpoints

Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus Fantasy on Nelson, whom he slots as a Tier One fantasy option, #7 among WRs:

“Nelson is now on the wrong side of 30, but 2014 showed there’s still plenty of fuel left in the tank. Paired with arguably the player in the league in Aaron Rodgers, Nelson remains a strong fantasy commodity who offers high upside in the second round.”

CBSSports' preseason outlook agrees that “Nelson should be considered a weekly must-start. Bank on him coming off the board between 16th and 25th overall in every draft this summer.”