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Jordy Nelson – Then, Now, and Going Forward

Do you remember the old TV show “To Tell the Truth?” The real individual had to tell the truth, while two imposters could lie in answering the panel’s questions, so they could trick the panel into thinking they were the real person. A good show.

So, is the real Jordy Nelson the guy who played for the Packers from 2008-16 (minus 2015), or is he the guy who’s been playing in 2017?

In that nine-year period, Nelson annually averaged being targeted 91 times, having 61 catches, for 14.3 yards per catch, and scoring 7.66 touchdowns. His highest yardage totals were: 1,519 (2014), 1,314 (2013), 1,263 (2011), and 1,257 (2016). In 2014, he averaged 94.9 receiving yards per game, and even last year he averaged 78.6 yards.

This year, Nelson has had one game with receiving yardage over 60 (75 against the Bears); he’s also had games of 0, 11, 13, 17, 20, 24, 28, 33, and 35 yards. In QB Aaron Rodgers’ return, Nelson was targeted six times, had three catches, and gained 28 yards. Even in the six games in 2017 in which Rodgers, and not Brett Hundley, fully played, Nelson has averaged only 5.7 targets, 3.8 catches, and 43 yards receiving per game.

Going so quickly from 78.5 yards per game to 43 is an astonishing decline in raw numbers and in productivity. What happened, and is it permanent?

The Logical Explanation

First off, it cannot be due to his ACL surgery. His numbers were fine in 2016 – and would have challenged his best year ever had coach Mike McCarthy not insisted on bringing him back so cautiously.

The underlying cause has got to be that Nelson is aging – even though he’s only 32. There’s simply no other explanation – same team, same QB (for six of those games), same coach.

When I say “underlying,” I mean that Nelson has indeed slowed down – both as to speed and quickness, and this slowdown has had a snowball effect, leading to a major drop off in targets, catches, and yardage.

As recently as 2014, Nelson was statistically computed to be the best deep receiver in the league. We’ve had 14 games to observe Nelson this year. He is not the deep threat he once was. He can still get deep, but now it is only for a brief moment as most defensive backs, being faster, can recover rapidly. When your deep threat deteriorates, defenders can guard you more tightly.

Next, look at Nelson’s footwork. His moves seem like they’re almost done in slow motion compared to, say, Davante Adams. As with his deep sprints, the separation he gains from defenders due to his moves is short lived. He does separate, but the quarterback usually has to anticipate Nelson’s break if he is to get the ball to him prior to the defender closing that gap. At any rate, that’s what I see on the film.

I think this explains why Brett Hundley had so little success in getting Nelson the ball. By the time Hundley got ready the throw, the defender was usually closing fast. Hundley threw a number of near-interceptions in this way.

When this happened, Hundley (and probably Big Mike) naturally became wary of throwing to Nelson, which would explain why the number of times he was targeted dropped off. The snowball effect again. Hundley threw toward Nelson nine times when he came in to relieve Rodgers in the Vikings game; in the next seven games, Brett targeted Jordy less and less — only 5.6 times on average.

Another aspect of the snowball effect is that as Nelson’s separation window became smaller and briefer, Big Mike and Nelson compensating by calling and running ever-shorter routes – and very often routes in which Jordy was hooking back toward Hundley. This caused Nelson’s yardage to decline in two ways: the completions were shorter and the yards after the catch went way down. It’s now Davante Adams who gets to run deep slants across the middle and ring up big yards after the catch.

Similar comparisons can be made regarding the Rodgers-Nelson connection. In the last eight games of 2016, Nelson was targeted by Rodgers an average of 9.9 times, and he averaged 93.5 yards per contest. As stated earlier, in Rodgers’ six full games this year, he’s targeted Nelson, on average, only 5.7 times, resulting in had 3.8 catches, and only 43 yards per game.

A final factor is that, by the second game of this year, Davante Adams had replaced Nelson as Rodgers’ go-to receiver – and that held true when Hundley took over. Adams has 885 receiving yards on the year versus 471 for Nelson – more passes and yardage for Adams means fewer for Nelson.

Nelson’s Future Prospects

I consider Nelson to be the finest man and role model I’ve ever seen put on a Packers jersey – the only one who even comes close would be Bart Starr. It is therefore with some sadness that I forecast that Nelson’s influence and effectiveness will never again approach what it was in his four best years.

I don’t foresee another 1,000-yard season for the future Kansas wheat farmer. Nelson caught 98 and 97 passes in 2014 and 2016 – I doubt he’ll surpass 80 ever again.

Here’s the annual yardage achieved by Packers great Donald Driver in the last seven years of his career: 1,295, 1,048, 1,012, 1,061, 565, 445, and 77. Driver was 37 during 2012, his final year. I predict Nelson’s career will follow a similar path.

I recall Nelson saying that he’d like to play three more years after this year. My guess is that he’ll retire at 34 after 2019 or possibly after 2020 – and that he won’t linger for a final year as a reserve, as Driver did.

Whatever happens, we’ve had the privilege of watching, I believe, the greatest Packers receiver since Don Hutson. He should wind up second on the Packers’ all-time receptions list and second or third on the all-time yardage list, in each case behind Donald Driver, and in close proximity to Sterling Sharpe and James Lofton. Had he not missed the 2015 season, Nelson might have ended up at the top of both lists.

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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19 Comments

  1. Kato December 19, 2017

    Sterling Sharpe and James Lofton are both better than Jordy. One is a HOFer, and the other one should be, he was the second best receiver in the game for 5 years, behind the GOAT (Jerry Rice).

    It is obvious that Nelson’s play has declined, but do you cut between Jordy and Cobb? Cobb is younger and still kinda productive and should continue to be. But he can fairly easily be replaced by Ty Montgomery. But Jordy has also produced up to his contract, and more excluding this year. I am still weary of resigning Adams given his recent concussion history, think Sam Shields.

    1. Adam December 19, 2017

      RE: Jordy’s contract.

      He absolutely has performed to the value of his overall contract, and maybe more. However, his cap hit next year, is $12.5M, the highest hit of any year in his deal. The argument can be made that he’s a likely candidate for restructuring/release.

      1. Kato December 19, 2017

        It could come down to dead money as Jordy would count 2.3 million against the cap and Cobb will count 3.25 million against the cap. Cobb is slightly more expensive overall.

        1. Adam December 19, 2017

          It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what happens this off-season, just from a personnel standpoint.

          Davante is going to get paid, I don’t think there’s any questions he’s the new #1 guy. As sad as it is to think about, I think that means Jordy’s number is up. He’s too expensive to be a #2 and you can’t move him to the slot because Cobb works best there. I think that’s the business move you have to make and it’s sad, as a fan, to think about.

          In that scenario, I wonder who the new #2 becomes. They’ve given Geronimo a ton of opportunities but it doesn’t seem like he’s taken advantage of them. I don’t see Trevor Davis as that guy either. You’ve got Jeff Janis… and depending on how you woke up that day, he should be the guy, or he’s perpetually relegated to Special Teams. Michael Clark shows some tremendous ceiling and athletic ability, but he’s a rookie with zero snaps this year. I highly doubt Mike puts him into the #2 spot next year, let alone developing that trust with Aaron.

          Then you have other positions int he air too. Burnett is a free agent this offseason. To me, personally, I don’t think there’s any way you let him go. He’s probably the most-solid player int he secondary. Not a turnover creating machine, but always consistent. No way you promote HaHa over Morgan.

          Linsley is a Free Agent as well. No idea what they’re going to do there. They’ve shuffled the O-Line personnel around so much over the past few years, I have no idea how much of an importance they see continuity at center as being. He could get paid, or they could shove Bulaga there for I fucking know, lol.

          Davon House is a free agent but the secondary STILL needs an overhaul, for like, the 4th consecutive year. I think Damarious is clearly our number 1 guy, whether you support that or not. He’s not going to be replaced unless they bring in big-name free agent. The rest of the depth behind him is open as far as I’m concerned.

          Richard Rodgers is a free agent, but he’s not going to command much cap. Maybe a draft pick replaces him. Kendricks is probably the #1 guy there next year after an additional off-season in the rotation.

          Then you take the draft into account and decide where you address things. Depending on what you do in the WR group, maybe that means taking a high-round pick on a WR this year? But holy fuck us the defense needs help… (like a broken record). I bet this becomes another year of defensive draft picks, and lord help us that we land some impact players that contribute early and often.

          There’s just to many holes to fix.

          1. Gort December 19, 2017

            I simply hope that someone not named Ted Thompson has the opportunity to fill the holes.

    2. Doug December 19, 2017

      Kato, Lofton was better, Sharpe was better, heck even Boyd Dowler was better than Jordy Nelson. I appreciate his fan favorite status, but truthfully without Rodgers throwing to him most of his career, he would have never put up those kinds of numbers

  2. PF4L December 19, 2017

    I guess Nelson is all washed up, i suppose his 6 TD receptions in the 1st 5 games was just a fluke.

    Nelson “lost a step” when Hundley came in. When he did get passes, they were mostly behind the line of scrimmage or 1 or 2 yards past it. Is this how you use Jordy Nelson? It is when you’re McCarthy and he wants to protect his over hyped 3 year project from getting sacked or intercepted.

    If the Packers disrespected Jordy and cut him. I’d be his biggest fan where ever he went. You don’t hang him out to dry because Hundley was his QB or because Nelson was used mostly as a quick out pass or used on run blocking assignments.

    Again, he didn’t lose his mojo from week 5 to week 6 when Hundley came in, that would be one hell of a coincidence wouldn’t it?

    With that said, the Packers are in a seriously bad spot. Nelson has been a top 5 receiver, and has over performed his contract. Cobb has seemed to have some recent urgency to be productive ( he knows his head is on the chopping block). But it still isn’t enough to justify this dudes contract, his production has slowly eroded from 2014.

    Davante now has concussion issues, he’s productive as hell, and deserves to be paid. But how much do you pay him? Guarantee him, knowing that one or two more bad concussions, and he could be out of the league. I have a feeling Adams and his agent will be playing hard ball, and will want all the guaranteed money they can get. Maybe Thompson does what he does best, and gives him a contract for 13-15 mil/year, idk.

    Do they offer Cobb and Nelson 5 mill/year on reworked contracts to keep it all together?

    But as Kato said above in his last line…”There’s just too many holes to fix”..rings true.

    This team is broken.

    1. PF4L December 19, 2017

      Check that, my bad….as Adam said.

    2. Howard December 19, 2017

      I really did not see your comment before I wrote my comment.

      1. PF4L December 19, 2017

        No worries…that’s happened to me.

        Truth be told, i respect the hell out of most everything you write. So when we see eye to eye, i’m humbled and take it as a compliment.

        1. Howard December 19, 2017

          Same back.

          1. Icebowl December 22, 2017

            Bromance in Green & Gold

  3. Howard December 19, 2017

    So Nelson caught 6 TD passes in the first 5 games with Rodgers as the QB. Then catches no more with Hundley and one game with a less than 100% Rodgers. Gee whiz we are to believe Hundley didn’t have something to do with that drop off? I say bullshit to Hundley having to look past Nelson because Nelson was too slow and could not create separation. Hundley looked past Nelson because he could not anticipate when receivers would come open and throw the ball on time. Blame that on the O-line, Blame it on Hundley’s inexperience, blame it on Hundley not staying with his reads, blame it on Hundley looking to run to early. Blame it on Nelson is for the most part crap.

    I will agree that Adams is receiver #1, and will acknowledge Nelson has lost some speed. Nelson is still faster than James Jones ever was and I would put him up against Cobb in a 100 yard dash. With that said I think Nelson will need to rework his contract. Maybe add a year or two for some remaining contract monies being guaranteed. Maybe even throw in some more dollars depending on years. Nelson is still a very solid 2 with the ability to score over 10 TDs a season. You don’t get rid of that, but you do try to reduce salary.

    I believe Nelson knows that his place is with Rodgers and the Packers. That is probably Nelson’s preferred option at a reasonable salary or some guaranteed money. I think Cobb also needs to rework his deal, but I don’t believe Cobb will. I don’t believe the Packers would miss Cobb as much as they will Nelson. If TT does not make an offer to Nelson or Cobb and release one or both then good luck. I think both can help the Packers but not at their current 2018 salaries.

  4. PF4L December 19, 2017

    This team is perilously close to needing a full blown rebuild. I know it seems odd to say that having Rodgers, but the truth is, this team is always in worse shape than the year before and that’s a bad sign. This team has consistent need area’s, and bloated, under performing contracts, not a good combination.

    1. Kato December 19, 2017

      I was thinking the same thing. It is amazing how much this team regressed from 2014. Poor to mediocre drafts and a lack of aggression in FA really has rendered this team to the brink of full rebuild. I will say one small positive, is this team isn’t as bad as the Colts teams toward the end of Manning’s tenure there. They went 1-15 the year he missed in a weak division. Although this team is creeping in that direction

    2. Cheese December 20, 2017

      “this team is always in worse shape than the year before”

      BOOM!

  5. Gort December 19, 2017

    The whole team is broken and we all have shown better insight into the problem / solution than the team’s leadership. We are at (probably beyond) the time for a full blown rebuild. If Murphy doesn’t start the house cleaning soon, he should be dismissed too. This has gone on long enough.

  6. Big B December 19, 2017

    Not a single Pro Bowl selection.
    No impact players except QB1
    Rebuild.

    1. Icebowl December 22, 2017

      Exactly what new Orleans did aroun bree s.