Packers fans around the world gasped in horror when Jordy Nelson went down in a preseason game, clutching his knee. Families drew their blinds and held each other close, afraid to face the inevitable news: Jordy Nelson had torn his ACL and would miss the upcoming season. Garments were rent. Blood was spilled. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats, living together…you get it.
I remember telling someone after the news came out that the Packers wouldn’t miss Nelson too much. “Yeah, it’ll hurt, but they have an extremely deep receiving corps and Eddie Lacy in the backfield. As long as the line stays healthy, they’ll barely miss a step.”
(I mean, I didn’t say that. A friend of mine did. I’m smart, not dumb like my dumb friend who said that. I’m not friends with that person anymore.)
As it turns out, the loss of Nelson hurt more than I thought he would. I expected Randall Cobb to step up in a big way last season (I even wrote a bold prediction about it), but to say that prediction didn’t go well would be an understatement. (I also predicted Nick Perry would lead the Packers in sacks, but we’re not talking about that now.) Not counting his rookie year (in which he saw only 31 targets), last year Cobb posted career lows in catch rate (61.2%) and yards per game (51.8). He could have posted a monster year, but instead ended up catching 79 balls for 829 yards and 6 touchdowns. Perfectly fine numbers, but not the eye-popping numbers I had hoped for with Nelson out of the line-up.
I ended that post with the words, “You thought you saw Cobb’s breakout already? You haven’t seen anything yet.” I am not intelligent.
I just broke down Cobb, but Aaron Rodgers also saw a big dip in his numbers. This past season, Rodgers posted career lows in completion percentage (60.7%), yards per game (238.8) and yards per attempt (6.7). His touchdown percentage (5.4%) was the second lowest of his career (his lowest coming in his first season as a starter).
There is one connecting thread to both of these, and that thread is the loss of Jordy Nelson. We already knew he was special – he’s the best boundary receiver I’ve seen since Cris Carter – but I didn’t quite appreciate how special.
So, with that in mind, here is my bold prediction: Jordy Nelson will have the best season of his career in 2016.
That’s no small feat. In 2014, Nelson caught 98 passes (on 151 targets) for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. By Football Outsiders’ metrics, he logged an impressive 26.2% VOA (Value Over Average).
The crazy thing is that Football Outsiders doesn’t recognize 2014 as his best season. That honor goes to his 2011 season, when he caught 68 passes (on 96 attempts) for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Those numbers gave him an insane 53.5% VOA for the season, best in the league.
For a point of reference, the highest wide receiver DVOA in 2015 was Doug Baldwin with 39.6%.
2011 saw Nelson posting a 70.8% catch rate, 18.6 yards per catch (his career high) and 0.22 touchdowns per catch (also his career high). It was a highly efficient and productive year for Nelson.
I don’t have access to Football Outsiders’ DVOA projections for the upcoming season, but I do have access to Excel, Nelson’s historical data and baseless speculation. What else does a boy need?
There are a lot of reasons to believe the Packers offense will be in the top 5 this season. Aaron Rodgers wants to prove to the league that he hasn’t lost a step after a down year. Eddie Lacy is in a contract year. The offensive line – when healthy – is one of the best in the league. And then, of course, there is the receiving corps.
The return of Nelson bumps everyone back down into their roles they are more comfortable. Randall Cobb goes back in the slot. Davante Adams – he of the 53.2% catch rate last season – no longer has to pretend to be the #1 option. Ty Montgomery is (hopefully) 100% after an ankle injury prematurely ended a promising rookie season. (I love Ty Montgomery so much, you guys.) James Jones is (sadly) gone, taking his slow, slithering routes and illegal hoodie with him. The survivor of the Jeff Janis/Jared Abbrederis street fight may actually sniff a handful of snaps in the regular season. (My money is on Janis.)
It’s Montgomery and Janis that will really help Nelson in his quest to put up a monster season. The speed those guys present should help take the top off the defense without having to rely on Nelson to do that by himself. Someone else helping to shoulder that load will allow Nelson to see more single coverage, which in turn will give him more room to work with, which will allow for bigger windows for Rodgers to throw into. More room to work means a better chance of catching the ball, which means a higher catch rate than he saw in 2014.
With all those factors, I’m looking for a big – yet efficient – year from Nelson. You want numbers? Here are the numbers:
101 catches (on 142 targets), 1,667 yards and 14 touchdowns. Touchdowns are notoriously hard to predict, so that’s the one thing hanging me up. He could put up those same numbers with 8 touchdowns or 18 touchdowns and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But, for now, let’s play it conservative.
Apparently I think “conservative” means 100+ catches, 1500+ yards and 14 touchdowns.
My spirit is ready. Let’s start the season.
Thank you for reading. Dusty Evely is a featured writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @DustyEvely. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.