Nelson, a wide receiver out of Kansas State, was the third receiver taken in the draft, yet many analysts projected him outside of the top five or even top 10 at his position. The Packers are loaded at wide receiver, so when general manager Ted Thompson came out to talk about his first pick to the fans gathered in attendance at the Atrium, he was quite naturally met with some booing (for the record, that is the second straight year that has happened).
Thompson has always sought value over need in the draft. Nelson has always been a play-maker despite the monikers that some may place on him. Combine those two ideas and the Packers should have a pick that is much better than advertised.
While Nelson has been compared to seemingly every slot or possession receiver in the NFL past or present, his size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds) and ability would indicate would indicate he can be much more than that. The thinking here is that he has all the makings of a big-play performer for the Packers and could easily be a future No. 1 receiver.
One scouting report said of Nelson, "You just get the feeling that he is on the verge of being a special player."
His agent, former Raiders' safety Vann McElroy, told the Kansas City Star in an April 24 article, "What they (NFL teams) have really come to realize is he's not simply a try-hard white kid."
That realization helped Nelson move from a walk-on at Kansas State to a second-round draft choice. Had the Packers not nabbed him at No. 36 overall it is difficult to say where he would have been selected, but it is safe several other receivers garnered more pre-draft attention.
As it turned out, Nelson was the third wideout taken overall. None went in the first round, but then Houston's Donnie Avery went to the Rams at No. 33 and Michigan State's Devin Thomas went to the Redskins at No. 34. After Nelson at No. 36, seven more receivers went in the second round including big-time performers James Hardy of Indiana, DeSean Jackson of California, Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma, and Limas Sweed of Texas. LSU's Early Doucet and Michigan's Mario Manningham went in the third round.
Nelson will arrive at the Packers' three-day rookie camp, which begins on Friday, as the top dog, but when training camp arrives he projects as the No. 5 or 6 receiver on the depth chart. He definitely has a challenge ahead of him, but do not be surprised if he is a starter in a couple of years. He really is that good, and with any unforeseen changes in personnel or any injuries, he could get his shot even sooner.
The long and short of Nelson's rise to the NFL began on the family farm in Riley, Kansas. After a standout prep career in basketball, football, and track, he joined the Kansas State football program in 2003, eventually switching positions from safety to wide receiver. He made his biggest statement his senior year.
Catching a whopping 122 passes in just 12 games in 2007, Nelson became a consensus All-American. Making his average of more than 10 catches a game even more impressive was that every opponent he faced knew the ball was coming his way. He was the Wildcats' only true weapon on offense.
When Nelson was on the field big plays were bound to happen. He caught 11 touchdowns last year including one where he blew by Kansas cornerback and first-round draft pick Aqib Talib for a 68-yard touchdown. As a punt returner, Nelson took back three returns for touchdowns in his college career in only six tries.
Nelson's size and athletic ability are no joke. He may not be able to run by everyone at the NFL level, but he is good enough to get open, catch a pass, and then make people miss. And he may have to learn the intricacies of an NFL offense, but he is smart enough to become a student of the game. On top of everything else, he is a true football player coming to a true football town. What's not to like about that?
This Packers' coaching staff has a way of making so-called possession or "slower" wide receivers into big-player performers. Look no further than Greg Jennings or James Jones. Nelson would appear to fall right in line.