The Green Bay Packers have plenty of firepower on offense but Jordy Nelson provided one of the NFL’s ultimate deep threats.
— Nelson had eight receptions of 40-plus yards last season. Only Washington’s DeSean Jackson (13) had more.
— Nelson had a league-high five touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards while Jackson was next with four. All of Nelson’s long touchdowns were from at least 60 yards — 80 yards vs. the Jets, 73 vs. the Bears, 66 vs. the Vikings, 64 vs. the Eagles and 60 vs. the Falcons. Unbelievably, that’s more 60-yard gains — touchdown or non-touchdown — than 30 of the other 31 teams. In fact, Green Bay was one of only five teams with four passing plays of at least 60 yards.
— Over the past five seasons, Nelson has a league-high 14 touchdown receptions of 50-plus yards. Jackson (11) is the only other receiver with at least 10.
— Over that same span, Nelson has 21 touchdown catches of 25-plus yards. Only Mike Wallace (22) has more.
— Over the past two seasons, Nelson has 31 receptions of at least 25 yards. Only Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (32) has more.
— Take those 25-yard receptions out over five seasons, and Jackson has 66, Calvin Johnson 62 and Nelson and Thomas 59.
That’s big-time, big-play production. And it’s going to be an element in the Packers’ offense that will be almost impossible to replace. That’s going to change the way Green Bay plays on offense. And it’s also going to change the way defenses attempt to defend the Packers’ attack.
“It’s one of those things where, it’s early enough in the year where you can maybe try to reformulate some plans and make some adjustments,” fullback John Kuhn told reporters after the Packers’ 24-19 loss at Pittsburgh. “So in that aspect, you have to try and be proactive and positive going forward. On the other side, the human nature in you, it’s like a gut punch. It’s a gut punch that you didn’t see coming.”
Randall Cobb, who joined Nelson at the Pro Bowl, caught 91 passes last season. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Cobb caught 75 passes in the slot vs. 16 from the outside. He is a decent deep threat — he caught 6-of-13 passes thrown longer than 20 yards, according to PFF, with that 46.2 percent catch rate not being far off of Nelson’s 48.0 percent. However, at 5-foot-10, catching the 40-yard bomb is never going to be Cobb’s forte.
Clearly, the pressure falls on Davante Adams and Richard Rodgers, a pair of second-year players, to pick up the slack in the overall passing game.
Adams caught a total of 46 passes in 18 games. It was feast or famine, with 31 receptions in five games and 15 receptions in the other 13. He had just two receptions of longer than 25 yards. He’s an explosive performer in terms of jumping ability and strength, but he lacks great long speed with his 4.56 at the 2014 Scouting Combine.
Richard Rodgers caught 25 passes in 18 games. With a 4.87 in the 40 at the 2014 Combine, he’s not going to win many foot races, though he did have a 32-yard touchdown against New England.
Maybe second-year speedster Jeff Janis can provide a deep threat, but that’s wishing and hoping. Janis has a Nelson-esque combination of size and speed, but he caught two passes for 16 yards as a rookie and hasn’t taken a significant step forward this summer. Until Nelson’s injury, he wasn’t even a lock to make the final roster. Rookie Ty Montgomery has made some deep catches in practices but his game at Stanford is more about quickness and strength to produce run after catch.
Can the Packers’ offense be productive without Nelson? Of course. But they’re going to have to do it through patience, efficiency on third down and in the red zone and power in the running game rather than Nelson’s deep-ball dominance.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.