Jordy Nelson - All Time Great?
By Jon Meerdink
I have to admit, when the Packers drafted Jordy Nelson I was more than a little skeptical. "A white wide receiver from Kansas State?" I thought. "Hmmm...doesn't sound like a recipe for success to me." Turns out I was wrong. Not only has Jordy Nelson been an extremely solid offensive option for the Green and Gold, but last year he put up numbers that rank him among the greatest players to ever put on a Packer uniform. And that's not even hyperbole. Doesn't quite seem possible does it? Well, let's take a look.
To establish what truly is an all time great season, we need to define our terms. For the purposes of this discussion, a "great" receiving season will be defined as accumulating at least 1200 receiving yards, scoring a minimum of 12 touchdowns (at least one score in 75% of a regular season) and averaging over 15 yards per reception. I've chosen to leave total receptions out of the ranking for a couple reasons. First, the history of the Packers is long enough that it encompasses seasons of 12, 14, and 16 games. Some players, then, will have an unfair advantage in racking up receptions. I realize that applies to other stats at well, but efficiency can make up for a lack of opportunities in those categories more than in receptions. With that in mind, here is a complete list of players in Green Bay Packer history that have had seasons with 1200 receiving yards, at least 12 touchdowns, and a yards per reception average of at least 15 yards. For simplicity's sake, the chart is sorted by touchdowns. (Stat chart courtesy of Pro Football Reference)
As you can see, Nelson's 2011 campaign puts him in pretty rare company.By our previously established definition, there have only been eight "great" receiving seasons in the history of the Packers (and Packer Perspective Hall of Famer Antonio Freeman has two of them). I wish that the chart was sortable (click the link above to interactive version of the chart), but it's not, so instead here are a few observations.
- It's probably the most obvious thing on the chart, but it's worth pointing out that only one other player in Packer history has ever scored more touchdowns than Jordy Nelson did last year...and Don Hutson did it in 11 games. How great was Don Hutson? I think you can make the argument that he was the most dominant offensive force in the history of football. His stats from 1942 would have ranked him 11th in yards, tied for 1st in touchdowns, 1st in yards per game, and 9th in yards per reception in last year's NFL. Pretty solid. But I digress.
- Of the players on the list, Nelson's yards per reception rank second behind the absolutely insane 23.23 yards per reception Billy Howton posted in 1952. I'm still not sure Billy Howton was actually a real person, so it's pretty cool that Jordy was only beaten out in that category by someone the internet may have made up.
- Aside from Howton and Hutson, Nelson was the only player on the list who didn't start at least 75% of the games in the season. His number could have been lower still had Greg Jennings not hurt his knee late in the year. I probably don't have to tell you how ridiculous it is that a non-starter put up megahuge numbers.
- Even though we're not specifically looking at receptions in this ranking, I think it's worth pointing out that Nelson had the second fewest receptions on this list, behind only the possibly imaginary Billy Howton. With 68 receptions last season, Nelson averaged a touchdown every 4.5 receptions, a pretty prolific rate. To put that in perspective, Rob Gronkowski led the NFL last year with 17 touchdown receptions, but he also had 90 catches. If Jordy had 90 balls come his way and still scored touchdowns at the same rate, he'd have ended up with 20 for the year (not to mention he would have accumulated 1,671 yards). Again, pretty impressive numbers.
The numbers basically speak for themselves (although I've done quite a lot of speaking already). Clearly Jordy Nelson had one of the best receiving seasons any Packer season has ever had. I do feel I need to add one caveat to this discussion. Even though he had an incredible year last year, we should have a little caution heading into next year. Prior to the 2011 season, Nelson never had more than 45 catches, 582 yards, or two touchdowns in any one year. Given his prominence in the offense last year, he probably won't regress that far, but it would also be unreasonable to expect him to put up the otherworldly numbers like this again. But no matter what happens next season, we can always know for sure that in 2011, Jordy Nelson had one heck of a year.