August 8, 2012
Nelson went from a little-used possession receiver in his first two years to one of the key rotation pieces in 2010. Once he started to show his ability in the deep passing game near the end of 2010, quarterback Aaron Rodgers began to trust him more, and he eventually turned into a post-season superstar, and capped his 2010 season with nine receptions, 140 yards and a touchdown in a Super Bowl win.
Last year was a ridiculous jump, however. Nelson had never even notched over 15 yards per catch, and suddenly he was one of the most efficient deep threats in the game with over 18 per reception. Obviously you have to stand and give applause to Aaron Rodgers, who is quite arguably the best quarterback in the league. You have to give a lot of credit to Green Bay’s offensive system and the talent around Nelson, as well.
But Nelson did a lot of his damage when number one receiver Greg Jennings was missing time with a sprained knee. With Jennings out of the Packers’ final three games last year, Nelson acted as the team’s number one receiver, and hauled in 17 receptions, over 300 receiving yards and five touchdowns over that span.
In fact, his best game of the season (and his career) didn’t even come with Rodgers on the field. With no Rodgers and no Jennings to draw the defense away, Nelson caught nine balls for 162 yards and three touchdowns in the season finale against the Detroit Lions. Impressive, to say the least.
I know his efficiency on deep balls was crazy. It’s probably impossible for him to score 15 times off of just 68 catches ever again. He might not ever average a blistering 18.6 yards per catch again in his career, either.
But the Green Bay Packers are raving about this guy - still. According to reports, he’s been the offensive star in camp, and is somehow even getting better. Wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett can’t hold back his amazement or enthusiasm. Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Bennett said, “”Wow! This guy just continues to improve. He is an elite receiver…he has those three ‘S’ words: size strength and speed. This guy is a difference-maker”.
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements called him a “great player”, starting talk of Nelson possibly now being regarded as an elite wide receiver in the NFL.
But is he? After just one season of what is without a doubt regarded as elite production, could he seriously already be mentioned with the best receivers in the league?
I honestly don’t see why not.
Being white doesn’t help Nelson. I don’t mean to bring race into it, but it is what it is. White receivers aren’t littered across the league. White star receivers certainly aren’t, anyways. Being white, many tend to over-look Nelson. His stats naturally feel like they come more from the system or his quarterback. And being that they’re just one year of proven elite production, they can come off as a bit flukey.
But Nelson isn’t the normal white wide receiver. He’s not a Wes Welker clone, and he’s not stuck in the slot. He has the size, strength and speed to be one of the game’s top deep threats. In 2011, that’s exactly what he was. His camp performance, offense and personal attributes suggest it will only continue.
I’m not saying he’s going to rival Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson. But I also don’t think it’s fair to just assume he can’t get to their level. He has the body and physical ability. He runs precise routes and has developed into a reliable hands guy. He can hurt you in all the phases of the game.
Let’s put it this way. If you think Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz or Wes Welker are elite based off of statistics and talent, then you have to toss Nelson’s hat into that ring, too. And for now, I just mean for consideration. He has to keep doing what he’s been doing to earn that title and to be able to say it himself. One year of crazy numbers doesn’t make you elite.
In a recent column over at ProFootballTalk.com, Michael David Smith said Nelson doesn’t have the physical gifts of Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He’s probably right. Those guys are better talents, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare him to the two best wide receivers in the game, and if he doesn’t match up completely, to dismiss him.
He also said Nelson didn’t have the production of Wes Welker or Victor Cruz. Well, no one has the production of Welker. Literally. No one has recorded as many 100+ reception seasons. The guy is an unstoppable slot machine. And as for Cruz, that statement is just wrong. Cruz, just like Nelson, has just one elite season to his name. And while Cruz topped Nelson is yardage, Nelson owned Cruz in touchdowns in 2011, with 15 to just nine.
Smith also assumes that Nelson is just a “very good” receiver in a great offense that makes perfect use of his skills. He also says that Nelson wouldn’t necessarily be such an impact player in any other offense. Maybe, but that’s another claim that isn’t really fair and can’t be judged. First, all the receivers he compared to Nelson have had great offenses and quarterbacks working with them. If you can say that about Nelson, you can certainly say that about Welker, and possibly even Cruz. Not that they’re not talented, but that they have definitely benefited from their offenses and roles.
I don’t agree with a lot of Smith’s points, but I agree with his skepticism. At least, I understand it.
Regardless, Nelson is on the rise. His exact 2011 stats may not be repeated, but I’d be willing to bet Calvin Johnson’s crazy 2011 season won’t be repeated in 2012, either. If you go back in history, receivers don’t usually follow a 15+ touchdown season with another 15+ touchdown season. Randy Moss never did it. Neither did Terrell Owens. Jerry Rice did that, but he only did that once.
Is Jordy Nelson an elite wide receiver right this moment? Probably not. He has great skills and has a platform to get there. But to be an elite receiver, you need yearly production. You need to stay healthy and consistently be the guy that makes the big play. You probably have to be your own team’s best receiver, too, which Nelson currently is not. But he’s still just 27 and he’s really only going to get better. I wouldn’t bet against him.