Jordy Nelson, who led the NFL in touchdown receptions after missing all of last season with a knee injury, was named Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year at Saturday’s NFL Honors show.
Nelson caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns — ranking fifth, sixth and first, respectively, in those categories.
Nelson earned 36 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake received 11 votes and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell was the other candidate. Nelson is the first Packers player to win the award.
"This is an extremely great honor to be up here in front of all these great players, past and present," Nelson said in accepting the award. "First, I want to thank our athletic trainers with the Packers. Nate (Weir) and Flea (Bryan Engel) the last two years have done a lot of work to get me back on the field and keep me on the field. To be able to be out there again this year and play all 16 games was an honor. You realize how much you miss it when you miss the whole season. My wife and my two boys that are back home, thanks for being patient these last two years. I probably spent about three or four months on crutches. It’s not great when you have a 7-year-old, but they’ll understand."
NFL VIDEO: THE BEST OF JORDY NELSON
After being held out of the offseason workouts, barely practicing in training camp and not playing in the preseason, Nelson got off to a decent start with 21 receptions and five touchdowns in the first four games.
That was only the start, though. As the season progressed, Nelson got better and better. During Green Bay’s six-game winning streak to end the regular season, Nelson caught 44 passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns. That was tied for the most receptions, was first outright in yards and behind only teammate Davante Adams in touchdowns.
“The body has felt great, to be honest with you, all year long,” Nelson said before the regular-season finale at Detroit. “I do think my body feels better now than it did maybe a few weeks ago. I think for me, the more work I do throughout the week, the better I am. The moment I started getting days off like after our bye week and stuff, it was invigorated. It’s been great to be out there in practice every week and be prepared for games.”
It was that preparation that was lacking at the start of the season. While he did score five touchdowns in his first four games, Nelson opened the season with six receptions for only 32 yards in Week 1 at Jacksonville, five receptions out of 11 targets in Week 2 against Minnesota, four catches out of 13 targets vs. the Giants in Week 5 and one catch for 9 yards vs. Chicago in Week 7.
The Packers’ cautious approached proved to be the right one.
“I think just the way we held him on PUP and all that, we couldn’t have been more cautious with him,” coach Mike McCarthy said before the Detroit game. “You definitely see the benefits of that, but I felt like we put a lot of stress on him early in the year to perform at such a high level. He’ll be the first to tell you, he needs the practice, he needs some preseason game work. To go right from a very conservative approach throughout training camp and then go into that game, I forget, it’s what, 110-112 heat index down in Jacksonville? That was a tough task for anybody, let alone Jordy, because he just didn’t have the investment of a lot of snaps throughout training camp. It took him a little while to get going. He’s no different than any player in this league that’s coming off of major knee surgery. That first year back from major joint surgery, it’s tough. It’s a grind because everything is a little different. He’s done a great job working through it, though.”
Nelson did his best work in the red zone, where he led the NFL with 19 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He moved into third place in franchise history with 63 receiving touchdowns, fourth place with 497 receptions and fifth place with 7,366 receiving yards. Nelson recorded 13-plus touchdown catches for the third time of his career. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers Lance Alworth, Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison have more in NFL history.
Without Nelson, the Packers ranked 15th with 23.0 points per game in 2015. With Nelson back in action, the Packers ranked fourth with 27.0 points per game. During the final four games, that soared to 34.3.
Nelson’s comeback from the torn ACL was remarkable. But perhaps not as remarkable as his comeback from broken ribs. Two weeks after he was injured and hospitalized following a sideline hit against the Giants, Nelson was back on the field for the NFC Championship Game. He caught six passes for 67 yards and one touchdown against the Falcons.
“That’s Jordy Nelson, man. He’s a fighter,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “Obviously saw him all last season, not being able to play. You could see how much that hurt him. Not being able to participate with his teammates, with his brothers out there. He was going to be out there regardless. Throughout all the talk all week how Jordy might not go — everybody in this locker room knew he was going. That’s just the type of person he is, the type of player he is. He’s going to give his all for this football team. I’m thankful that I got to play with him for the last four years.”
Nelson took it all in stride.
“I didn’t do anything special,” he said after the game. “I just went out and played football.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.