The loss of Jordy Nelson had a profound impact on the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
Nelson, simply, was irreplaceable. The Packers scored more than seven points less per game in 2015 compared to their league-leading clip of 30.4 points per game in 2014. James Jones was signed after Nelson went down and put up team-leading figures of 890 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Still, he was no substitute for Nelson, who caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014. How good was that? Nelson recorded one of only seven seasons in NFL history with at least those numbers in those three categories. (See chart below, courtesy Pro Football Reference.) Moreover, Nelson caught five touchdown passes of at least 59 yards. That was more 59-yard catches — touchdown or nontouchdown — than 30 of the other 31 teams.
The impact went beyond the frequent long-distance connections between Aaron Rodgers and Nelson. The impact was felt throughout the passing offense, as opponents choked the life out of the intermediate passing game because defenses didn’t fear the deep ball.
With Nelson in 2014, Randall Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Without Nelson in 2015, Cobb slumped to 79 catches for 829 yards and six touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns came in the first three games, including a three-touchdown game vs. Kansas City, and he was held scoreless for the final six regular-season games. Plus, he went from 14.1 yards per reception to just 10.5.
With Nelson in 2014, Davante Adams caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a part-time starter. With Nelson’s injury meaning more playing time for Adams in 2015, he improved a bit with 50 receptions for 483 yards but caught just one touchdown pass. More noticeable, Adams averaged merely 9.7 yards per reception — down 2.0 from his rookie season. Of wide receivers who caught at least 40 passes, Adams’ yards per catch ranked third-to-last and his catch rate of 53.2 percent was eighth from the bottom.
Obviously, there was more at play in these numbers than Nelson’s injury. Cobb battled through an injured shoulder early in the season and Adams missed three games and most of another with a sprained ankle that hampered him more than he’d admit.
Still, offenses that can’t stretch the field or don’t have a dominant perimeter threat are practically doomed to mediocrity. Look no further than the impact it had on Rodgers. With Nelson throughout his career, Rodgers entered last season ranked third in NFL history with 8.22 yards per attempt. Last year, he ranked 30th with 6.68 yards per attempt.
The return of Nelson, the addition of tight end Jared Cook and the potential of receivers Jeff Janis and rookie Trevor Davis should prevent last year’s offensive impotence from happening again this season.
Jordy Nelson's 2014
Seasons of 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in NFL history:
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.