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Spotlight: Jordy Nelson

posted by Chris Smith on Jul 30th

Chris Smith's thoughts

Jordy Nelson had a season to remember last year with the Green Bay Packers. He had the 42nd best fantasy season by a wide receiver of all time last year, finishing with 1263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He was a difference maker all season long and his blend of size, agility and potential finally matched up with production. In his first three seasons combined, Nelson only managed 1268 total receiving yards and 6 touchdowns and was an afterthought in the Packers offense. He had the occasional flash of glory that made fans sit up and take notice but nobody anticipated the kind of season he managed to put up during the 2011 campaign.

277 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns came during the final two weeks of the season when top receiver Greg Jennings was lost to injury but even removing those two weeks, Nelson was having a very strong fantasy season. He had ten games with 70+ yards receiving, five 100-yard games and scored at least one touchdown in ten games. He became a stellar every week fantasy starter and now the question is have we seen the best of Jordy Nelson or was last season simply a sign of things to come.

There have been a number of receivers to rise from obscurity only to never again reach those lofty numbers:

  • Willie Davis, Kansas City: Top-10 season in 1993 and then one as 29th top receiver and never again in top-45.
  • Michael Haynes, Atlanta: Had 1350 yards and 8 touchdowns combined in his first three seasons. In fourth year (1991), he caught 50 passes for 1121 yards and 11 touchdowns, finishing as the 5th best fantasy receiver. The next year had 800 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns and then after that was a fantasy football afterthought.
  • Brett Perriman, Detroit: He had a number of pedestrian seasons with the Lions until the 1995 season when he exploded up to 8th as fantasy receiver. Fell back to 20th the following year and then disappeared completely.
  • Michael Jackson, Baltimore: He had a couple of decent seasons with the Cleveland Browns but erupted when team moved to Baltimore in 1996 as the best fantasy receiver. After that he finished 29th and 78th and then was out of football.
  • Patrick Jeffers, Carolina: He was the poster boy for one-year wonders. He did nothing in his first few seasons, erupted in 1999 with a monster season (7th best fantasy receiver) and then disappeared completely.
  • Germane Crowell, Detroit: He rose up to 8th best fantasy receiver in 1999 and then fell off the map entirely This is just a few examples to illustrate that receivers are not a guarantee to keep production at a high level just because they have one big season. There are plenty of more examples of this happening as well as players continuing on to have multiple huge fantasy seasons. This is not to say that Jordy Nelson is going to fizzle out after his big season. Rather it is to say simply we should not just pencil him in for similar statistics and instead break down the likelihood of it happening this season and beyond.


  • He is in an exceptional passing offense led by Aaron Rodgers: The top thing that Nelson has going for him this season and into the future is the explosive nature of the passing attack led by Aaron Rodgers, who has averaged 4300 yards passing over the last four years. With Donald Driver aging and becoming only a depth player in the offense, Nelson has risen to claim the 2nd starting receiver position, opposite of Greg Jennings. The Packers have averaged over 340 completions in this span with the receivers catching 210 of those passes. Nelson was be in competition with Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Donald Driver for those approximately 210 receptions and really, only Jennings and Cobb are a threat to his production.
  • In the prime of his NFL career: A lot of receivers take a few years to find their NFL stride and Jordy Nelson was no exception. He has great size and speed and a real knack for getting behind opposing defenses for the big play. At just 27-years of age this season, he has hit his stride and has a wonderful on-field relationship with quarterback Rodgers.
  • Not the focal point of the receiving game: If he was the top receiver for the Packers, defenses would be rolling a safety over to him and keep a steady double on him most of the game. However the Packers number one receiving threat is still Greg Jennings which will keep defenses from keying on Nelson going forward. This is a huge advantage to Nelson and his speed and he will continue to catch cornerbacks in single coverage and make them pay. Having a skilled tight end like Jermichael Finley also helps as safeties are not able to get as deep as they would like in trying to contain both the receivers and talented tight end.
  • Was the 18.6 yards per reception and 15 touchdowns a fluke or sign of things to come: One of the things to always monitor is a jump in statistics and there are two noticeable ones to be aware of with Nelson? First of all, he averaged 4.1 more yards per reception than any of the other three seasons. That certainly seems high and a correction back to 15-16 yards per reception is likely. Also the touchdown to reception ratio was ridiculously high (1 touchdown every 4.53 receptions). The average amongst the top-10 last season not including Nelson was 1 touchdown every 9.7 receptions. He averaged 1 every 18.3 receptions in his first three seasons.
  • Packers have had two top-20 receivers in three of the past four seasons so there is enough production to continue having multiple receivers with success in this offense. Greg Jennings is the top receiver in this offense but Rodgers has excellent ability to spread the ball around to everyone on the field.


  • Entering into the prime of his NFL career
  • Has big-play ability and his combination of size and speed is difficult to control
  • With Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley also on field alongside of Nelson, defenses cannot key on stopping Nelson


  • His big season came with only 68 total receptions and the high yards per reception and touchdowns are likely to fall
  • He will often be the third option for Aaron Rodgers, keeping his targets somewhat low
  • 2nd-year receiver / returner Randall Cobb is a gifted player and will push for more playing time in the offense in 2012 which would drop Nelson's targets down

Final thoughts

Jordy Nelson is not going away. I mentioned the players earlier in the spotlight only to help temper expectations and to ensure fantasy owners are looking at him objectively and not just pencilling him in for a return to the top-two at the receiver position. The caveats to be aware of is the unlikeliness of his touchdowns being so high in 2012 and his yards per reception being up towards to 20.0 level. More likely is 10 touchdowns and 15 yards per reception which will still keep him as a legitimate fantasy starter but likely outside of the top-five at his position. Expect similar reception totals and another good season or him as the Packers passing juggernaut continues to roll on.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

There are very few offenses where the parts seem interchangeable. Green Bay is one of those offenses as I would also say New England & New Orleans. What I mean specifically by this is that no matter what part of their offense you try to take away on defense, someone or something else emerges that only serves to make them that much more a hydra that when you cut off one of the heads, 2 more grow back. Coming into the 2011 season, many people were expecting the second coming of Jesus Christ with the return of Jermichael Finley. While Finley's inconsistency had more to do with his lack of All-Pro coming out party...this simply did not come close to phasing the Packers offense in the least.

The statistic that's shocking to me about Nelson is that he produced unbelievable numbers on only 96 targets; 5 fewer targets than Greg Jennings who missed 3 games. And if we are breaking this down even further, in the 13 games Jennings played, Nelson had only 70 targets. His numbers with Jennings on the field? 49/958/10.

Nelson was incredibly effective all over the field, but his usage was simply more situational than what you would expect out of a player with his production levels. 5-6 targets/game? When you have a WR corps where the #5 WR (Randall Cobb) could start in the slot for a majority of NFL teams, not to mention a ridiculously gifted albeit mercurial it reasonable to expect an increase in targets? If not, than can you expect an increase in efficiency? It would be tough - only 2 WR's with more targets than Nelson (Colston & Harvin) had better catch %'s.

So in Nelson, you have a stock at a 52 week high. Can he replicate his 2011 numbers? Well, he certainly has the QB to do so. But given how deadly he was when the Packers picked their spots, teams may take their chances by taking an efficient and consistent weapon away from Rodgers in favor of opening up another avenue for Rodgers to pick apart. Whatever winds up happening, I feel 100% confident that so long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the GB offense will be dynamic, explosive...whatever other superlative you want to put out there.

The problem for me with any GB WR is that they can switch roles likethis. Could Nelson all of a sudden become WR1 and Jennings WR2? Yes. Could Nelson become WR3 and Cobb WR2? Less possible, but yes if Cobb all of a sudden become a dynamic slot guy. I just feel like of the three offenses I mentioned above, Green Bay's is the most fluid but in a good way. Up until this year, I would have said New Orleans. But when you have 5 players catch at least 6 TD's...spreading the wealth is what you do best. For whatever reason, I see Finley bouncing back and Nelson becoming somewhat human again. But GB is going to be tough to forecast and my prediction is written in pencil...lightly.

fightingillini said:

I like Jordy Nelson this season. You know Rodgers is going to pass for 4500+ yards. Sure, he likes to spread the ball around, but Finley underachieving should give more opportunities to Nelson, who has shown to produce when the ball gets thrown to him. May be a little inconsistent to my liking for a strong #2WR, but he can carry you to a win in a given week. Price is pretty steep at an ADP of WR13, because I am not sure that he has the upside to be a top 5 or so WR. At that ADP, I want my WR to to carry that type of upside or be a very consistent performer. Nelson likely won't catch enough passes to be a top 5-7 WR, so he needs the TDs to become a top 5-7 WR, and we all knows TDs are volatile.

Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood said:

I'm a lifelong packer fan, but to even project a 0% decrease in production is optimistic. Projecting a 10% increase is beyond insanity. Anyone, especially a packer fan knows that Nelson's numbers are not going to be repeated. Those games where he had no catches going into the second half, then breaks off a 94 yard TD to save his fantasy day are luck. Him blowing up for 280 yards and 5 TD's in weeks 16 and 17 are not going to be the norm. His catches/target ratio was unreal. It's time to temper expectations.

Lets remember that prior to 2011 Nelson had a hard time fighting off James freaking Jones, and never racked up 600 yards in a season. He's closer to 70-1000-7 than he is repeating last years numbers.

The only sure thing in the passing attack is Greg Jennings. Beyond him, Finley is injury prone/rocks for hands and brains. Nelson has a year of great production, although he's always had his share of drops.

Beyond that, I see Randall Cobb taking over and eliminating the rotation of he, Jones, and Driver that we saw last year. I also see Cobb producing nearly 1000 yards in the passing game, which is going to effect Nelson's totals.

I think we may be too quick to try and jump on the next big thing. I'd love to be wrong and have Nelson go off again in 2012, but it's not realistic. He's a good WR. Not great.

Jordy Nelson projections

Chris Smith6810201000
Message board consensus7211371000