Adrian Peterson's 2012 ACL-tear comeback was borderline superhuman, but Nelson's return was nearly as impressive. At age 31, Nelson was the No. 2 non-PPR fantasy WR, despite missing virtually all of training camp and not getting into full gear until midseason. Moreover, while Nelson's efficiency (8.3 YPT) was merely average, he produced 9.5 YPT over the season's final eight games. That efficiency was driven more by Nelson's 75 percent catch rate, however, than playmaking ability -- Nelson's 12.68 yards per catch in the second half was actually lower than his full-season mark, and he had only four catches of 40-plus. Nelson made up for the lack of big plays with his red-zone work. His 29 targets were the most in the league by a mile as were his 15 looks inside the 10. Not surprisingly, he led the NFL with 14 TD catches. At 6-3, 217, Nelson has excellent size, and his 4.51 40 speed is more than adequate given his frame. At age 32, however, it's likely Nelson has lost a step, and it's largely his rapport with QB Aaron Rodgers that sustains his high level of production. Not much is likely to change in 2017, as the Packers didn't add any new wideouts of note. Tight end Martellus Bennett should see red-zone work, and rookie Jamaal Williams could vulture scores on the ground, but Nelson is still Rodgers' clear No. 1 target, especially near the goal line.
Who knew Nelson was the league's MVP? With Nelson tearing his ACL last August, QB Aaron Rodgers' alI-time great numbers cratered — his YPA went from 8.4 in 2014 to 6.7 last year, and the Packers' offense collapsed — 486 points down to 368. It turned out in retrospect Rodgers was playing on a bad knee, but the downgrade from Nelson, the NFL's most efficient per-play WR over a four-year span, to the inept Davante Adams was severe. At 6-3, 217, with 4.51 40 speed, Nelson profiles as a typical NFL No. 1, and it helps he has arguably the greatest QB of all time. Nelson is both a big-play threat (eight catches for 40-plus in 2014, 2nd) and a red-zone target (28 red-zone looks in 2014, 3rd). The biggest question, of course, is whether Nelson can make it all the way back from the injury. While 12-13 months is usually more than enough time, Nelson turned 31 in May, and there's a chance he'll have lost a step even if the ligament holds up. Nelson ran routes with no problem during the team's offseason program and is expected to be ready for training camp, but there's some risk. That said, should Nelson make it all the way back, there's little competition for his targets. Randall Cobb will reprise his possession role, James Jones is gone and newly-acquired tight end Jared Cook is a long shot to see major volume.
The league's most efficient per-play receiver for half a decade, Nelson finally saw heavy volume last year and did not disappoint; he finished as the No. 2 fantasy receiver behind only Antonio Brown, maintained his elite per-target average (10.1 yards, 2nd) and was second in the NFL in catches of 40 or more yards (8), behind only DeSean Jackson. At 6-3, 217, with 4.51 speed, Nelson profiles as a typical No. 1 NFL receiver, but it's his rapport with league MVP Aaron Rodgers that sets him apart. Rodgers looks for Nelson deep downfield and also in the red zone (28 targets, 3rd) and near the goal line (15 targets inside the 10, 4th), often on perfectly timed back-shoulder throws. Despite running deeper routes (15.5 YPC), Nelson caught 65 percent of the balls thrown his way and dropped only four of his 151 targets. Alas, a serious right injury ended his 2015 campaign in August, which opens the door for Davante Adams to see added looks in the Green Bay offense.
After an otherworldly showing in 2011 and an injury-riddled 2012, Nelson consolidated his breakout in 2013 even though quarterback Rodgers missed nearly half the season. Nelson posted his usual elite per-play numbers (10.3 YPT, 3rd) and had 19 catches of 20-yards or more on only 127 targets. he also saw his share of work in the red zone (19 targets) and inside the 10 (10). At 6-3, 217 and with 4.51 speed, Nelson profiles like most of the other top receivers on the board, and he benefits from his uncanny rapport with Rodgers, the league’s most efficient quarterback. In fact, if you take the eight games where both Nelson and Rodgers were healthy, Nelson’s line was 49-810-7, numbers that prorate to 98-1620-14 on 11.6 YPT, a mark that would have easily led the league. Even in Nelson’s 12-game 2012, he averaged 10.2 YPT and scored seven times. Toss in his 15-TD, 13.2 YPT (the highest mark in the last 10 years at least) in 2011, and the Nelson-Rodgers combo has been the gold standard in per-play efficiency the last three years. While Randall Cobb should be healthy again, and Eddie Lacy will no doubt see plenty of work near the goal line, Nelson should continue to be the team’s primary downfield weapon, and Rodgers’ top target in the red zone.
Of course, Nelson was going to regress from a historically efficient season of 13.2 YPT. And he did – to a merely elite 10.2.
Nelson had only 73 targets, thanks to ankle, foot and hamstring injuries costing him the better part of five games. When healthy, Nelson saw 12 red-zone targets, converting four, and struck for four catches of 40-plus yards.
At 6-3, 217, Nelson has excellent size and decent speed, and Aaron Rodgers often looks to him for the downfield strike. With Greg Jennings now in Minnesota, Nelson will split the receiving targets with Randall Cobb, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley, but as always in Green Bay there’s enough opportunity for everyone. Nelson had a procedure done his knee in July that was performed to clear up a lingering problem, with the expectation being that he'll be ready to go in Week 1.
The big-play receiver in one of the most prolific offenses in recent memory, Nelson averaged an ungodly 13.2 YPT, easily the most by any 90-target receiver in the last decade. It’s simply unheard of for a receiver to average 18.6 YPC and catch 71 percent of the balls thrown his way. Nelson had seven catches of 40-plus yards (tied for 3rd) and scored 15 touchdowns, second among all wide receivers, despite seeing just 96 targets. It helps that Nelson is 6-3, 217, with good speed and that Aaron Rodgers has a cannon for an arm and can buy time on broken plays. It also helped that Nelson saw 10 targets from inside the 10 (5th) and five targets from inside the five (5th). While Nelson is still a strong option in one of the league’s top offenses, there will almost certainly be regression to the mean – even if it’s still a strong 11 yards per target and a touchdown every 10 targets instead of every six. As such, a sharp increase in volume would be necessary to sustain last year’s numbers, something that’s not too likely with so much talent on the team, and Rodgers willing to throw to whoever is open.
Nelson was one of the Packers’ four main receivers last year and could very well be one their top-two in 2011, thanks to a huge game in the Super Bowl and the decline of Donald Driver. Of course, despite Nelson's nine catches for 140 yards and a score in the big game, he dropped three passes (two of which were admittedly tough catches). Still, Nelson was easily the team's best per-play receiver other than Greg Jennings last year with 9.1 YPT. At 6-3, 217, Nelson's got plenty of size and good speed, and clearly Aaron Rodgers trusted him enough to target him 15 times in the biggest game of their lives. There's upside here if Nelson's role grows.
Nelson will continue to return some kicks and compete for the third WR spot.
Nelson will be in a training camp battle with James Jones for the No. 3 receiver spot in Green Bay’s pass-friendly offense, although the end result may likely be a rotation between the two players. Once Donald Driver leaves, there will be an opening for either Jones or Nelson to become a starter, but Driver is still productive at age 34 and will keep the two youngsters on the bench for at least another season. Don’t expect a huge increase from Nelson’s 2008 totals (33 catches, 366 yards, two touchdowns).
Nelson was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft and will need to fight for playing time in a crowded wide receiver group. It's hard to imagine him getting much playing time this season unless there are a series of injuries in front of him, but he has a bright future.