Jordy Nelson is a fan favorite. It is very obvious why he is so loved. He is a kid from Kansas who brought his fellow receivers to his family farm for team building. He is a hard worker and not the typical receiver diva. Also, come on, Jordy is a cool name. Still, one cannot help but wonder what is going on with Nelson this year.
So much of Aaron Rodgers‘ woes last year were blamed on the loss of his top receiver. It was a constant and well-repeated statement from analysts everywhere. The rant would be that Rodgers would recover if only Nelson were there. His return has not brought up Rodgers’ numbers so far. So what is wrong with Jordy, or is it just something else?
Examining Jordy Nelson’s Drop-off in Production
Is Nelson Getting Looks?
Absolutely. Through four games, Nelson has 71 targets. That puts him on pace for 142 which would be the second highest of his career (he had 146 in 2014). Nelson has generally been able to take advantage of his targets. From 2009 through 2013, he had 373 targets and turned those into 4,224 yards (about 60.3 yards per game). The average depth of target over these seasons was 11.8 yards. Beyond all this, Nelson only once had a catch percentage below 70% (caught a mere 69% of his targets in 2012).
Okay, so that was a bunch of numbers, right? What do we pull from all that? Nelson was getting good targets before and continues to see them this year. There has not been a drop-off in the Packers use of Nelson. Again, he is on pace to have his second highest target total of his career. For comparison, Nelson leads the Packers with 71 targets. Davante Adams follows in second with 63 and Randall Cobb has 56.
Is Nelson Doing Enough With His Looks?
As alluded to above, Nelson had a career catch percentage of 70.0% before the ACL tear (2008-2014). He managed 400 receptions in those seven seasons. After a slow rookie year, Nelson only twice had a catch percentage under 70%. Moving into the post-ACL era, Jordy is catching just 54% of his targets this season.
Now all this is odd. Nothing happened with Nelson’s hands, the injury was in his knee. Somehow he has done enough to draw looks from Aaron Rodgers at the same rate as before the injury. Clearly there is something else going on that is effecting Nelson getting to the ball.
Is Nelson Being Used Differently?
There is one big difference in the stats this year. Maybe it is hard to see this stat again, but the average depth of target seems to have shifted for Jordy. As noted, Nelson had an average depth of target right around 12 yards per target. His previous high was 12.8 back in 2011. So far this season, Nelson is seeing an average depth of target of 13.3. Only five players have had higher average depths of targets with the Packers since Nelson started (Greg Jennings 13.9 in 2007, 14.5 in 2008, 14.3 in 2009, as well as 14.9 in 2010 and then James Jones with 15.9 in 2015). Of course, that means that last year was the only year since before Rodgers’ first MVP that the Packers had a player go deep more.
Nelson has been the Packers top deep threat and they are forcing the ball deep to him. The other receivers are going noticeably shallower. Jeff Janis leads the remaining receivers with an average depth of target of 10.8 (on just 11 targets). Behind Janis, Adams comes in at 10.1, Cobb at 8.1 and Ty Montgomery at a fun 2.1. Nelson has been taking the coverage deep and when the ball is coming his way it is usually with safety help nearby.
Nelson has essentially been where he has always been, but Rodgers is looking for him further down field and also with less success. If the Packers ran him on shorter routes he might have more success. The route for which Jordy became most well known was the side line route where he falls while keeping his feet firmly in bounds. Generally this would be a button hook or a deep come back route where Rodgers could lead Jordy to the sideline. That route has been missed. If Jordy continues to be a deep decoy he will likely be stuck with these diminished returns.