By: Jim Boyce
Why Jordy Nelson doesn’t need to match his 2014 totals to take the Packers to new heights.
Have you ever heard the expression that something is “So horrible that you can’t look away”? That was basically the Packers passing game last season. For a multitude of reasons the unit, led by Aaron Rodgers no less, lost its mojo during the 2nd half of week 4 at San Francisco and never got it back. One big reason, and perhaps the most easily identifiable, was the loss of Jordy Nelson before the 2015 season even began.
The easiest assumption to make is that Nelson will step in, post something similar to his fantastic 2014 stat line (98 rec 1519 yards 13 TDs) and everything will go back to normal. This isn’t out of the question and I’ll be happy if it’s that simple, but I’m here to suggest not that Nelson will decline, but that the growth of the young receivers will ease the burden on him to carry the passing game.
Jordy Nelson’s return helps everybody, and perhaps none more than Randall Cobb. Cobb hurt his shoulder in the third preseason game and chances are that affected him deep into the season. Nonetheless his production suffered when he was forced into the number one role without another WR of equal talent on the field. Cobb’s receptions dropped by 12 from 91 to 79, but what is really alarming is that his yardage dropped by 458! Clearly the big plays were missing from Cobb’s game last season. With Nelson back to occupy other teams’ top corners, expect Cobb to have more space to operate and thus get free for some big gainers.
One of the more compelling storylines heading into training camp is the rest of the WR corps. The Packers essentially have 5 players battling for what may only be 4 spots. Davante Adams was expected to take a big leap in Nelson’s absence but it never happened. Injured and inconsistent, even Adams himself understands that last season was not up to the standards expected of him.
“Obviously, the season I had last year, I wasn’t proud of it. So I’ve got to change it and do what I’ve got to do to move forward,” Adams said, via ESPN.com. “It’s a new year. Obviously, not everything goes the way you plan it to go. You can’t control some things. I hurt my ankle, I hurt my knee; I can’t do anything about that. What I can do is bounce back from it. It’s not just [about] proving it to the team but proving it to myself.”
I don’t know what Adams ceiling might be, but I certainly don’t expect him to be as bad as he was last season. Again Jordy Nelsons presence means Adams will be facing 3rd corners, and I believe he can become a serviceable 3rd wide out. As much of a struggle as 2015 was, I have to believe the experience he gained going against starting cornerbacks will help him a ton when he starts matching up against 3rd and 4th corners this season.
Ty Montgomery showed some real promise to start his rookie campaign. Aside from averaging a shade over 31 yards on 7 kick returns, he showed a knack for making plays, such as his early TD catch versus the Rams and a couple big receptions during a tight game against the Seahawks. (Check out 1:07-1:23 here). Unfortunately he suffered a severe ankle injury week 6 and may not even be ready for the start of this season.
If Montgomery begins the season on the PUP list, that would allow all of Trevor Davis, Jeff
Janis, and Jared Abbrederis to begin the season on the 53 man roster. Frankly all three are deserving. Davis being a 5th round draft choice with a ton of speed seems like a safe bet to make the team as it’s hard to see Ted Thompson just wasting a draft pick. As painful as Nelson being out was last season, the experience gained by Janis and Abbrederis, particularly in the playoffs at Arizona, could pay dividends this season. McCarthy praised Abbrederis recently and Abbrederis has shown good fundamentals in his time in Green Bay, unfortunately he has also battled a myriad of injuries. Jeff Janis may be the most hyped 7th round pick in NFL history, but his heroic plays at the end of the Arizona game certainly showed the physical tools he possesses. With another year in the offseason program I would not be shocked if either one of these players made a leap in 2016.
All in all the 2016 WR group could be deep, which would alleviate pressure on Nelson to put up 100 yards every game coming back off the ACL. There are other factors too. Jared Cook was brought in to add speed to the tight end group. I personally don’t believe Cook even has to put up more than 2 or 3 catches per game to have been a solid addition as long as he accomplishes the goal of forcing linebackers and safeties to respect his speed. Defenses’ playing deep on Cook and Nelson will open up the middle of the field for Cobb, Montgomery etc. to make plays in space.
The Packers finished 25th in passing offense in 2015, which is still difficult to fathom as Aaron Rodgers played in all 16 games. Do not expect a repeat in 2016. Jordy Nelson’s return makes everyone else on the field better, and in turn allows other guys to help Nelson in carrying the passing attack back to the lofty heights we have become used to up in Green Bay. Nelson may or may not match his lofty statistics from 2014, but he is still as important as ever to Green Bay’s title hopes.