Jordy Nelson is the first to tell you how "boring" he is.
His roots are humble. The born-and-bred Midwesterner once took a brief furlough from college workouts to tend to his family's farm. Simply, Nelson is the antithesis of the wide receiver position.
He received no Division I scholarship offers, walked onto Kansas State as a safety, starred as the Big 12's best receiver and then dropped into the second round. But no shoulder chips here.
"If you're trying to prove somebody wrong then you have your mind on the wrong things," he said back in the summer. "I just worried about playing football and doing what I could to improve."
He's remained quiet, diligent and, well, boring.
Which is precisely what Green Bay's offense needs to leapfrog from solid to juggernaut. Indianapolis had Brandon Stokley. New England had Wes Welker. Back when Steve Young was atop every fantasy football wish list, San Francisco had Ricky Watters. Nearly every team employs some version of the West Coast offense. Those that do it best boast an active No. 3 receiver, whether it's a potent slot wideout or (like the forefather 49ers) a running back.
In 2007, Green Bay's offense was most effective when James Jones was effective. Preoccupied with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, Jones crept into plenty of divots within the defense to post 40 receptions and 594 yards in Green Bay's 10-2 start. But when Jones slipped into hibernation in December, the offense suffered.
Hard to say if and when Jones will bust out like we all envisioned.
The man-child that attacked passes like Sterling Sharpe during his rookie camp — even prompting questions about Jennings' starter security — disappeared in his sophomore season. Bogged down by a lingering knee injury he sustained in the summer, Jones was a big disappointment in 2008. Nelson, on the other hand, was nearly flawless. The rookie dropped all of one pass this season. As advertised, he is silky smooth in his route-running, reliable across the middle and makes people miss after the catch. Shades of Stokely and Welker, indeed.
More encouraging, Aaron Rodgers looked to Nelson often as the season progressed. A trust was evident — not easy progress for a first-year starter and a first-year player to make together. Nelson caught a pass in 15 of 16 games, finishing modestly with 366 yards on 33 receptions and two touchdowns.
The "body control" Rodgers raved about in August surfaced on Nelson's nifty catch and spin for 23 yards against Carolina and his clutch game-tying lob touchdown against Houston. In his reserve role — often lining up in power formations — we only got to see the Half Nelson this year. To many, his selection in April was puzzling.
Frustrating re-runs of Mike Montgomery getting flicked away like a fly by offensive tackles, A.J. Hawk lumbering in slow motion and second-rate receivers squirting through the secondary for deep balls all put the Nelson pick under scrutiny. Some argued Ted Thompson's selection was overkill. Instead of filling a need, he was simply polishing a couple specks of dust off the team's biggest strength. They argue a defensive back or pass rusher could have been an instant Band-Aid the banged-up, slapdash defense desperately needed.
Three years from now, no one will remember (or care) that Kenny Phillips and Phillip Merling were available at Thompson's initial first-round draft pick. Stockpiling artillery for Rodgers has been one of the G.M.'s best tendencies. Even with a team that was built to win now, Thompson thinks long term. This strategy backfired with the Justin Harrell selection, but the track records of Bill Polian and Scott Pioli reflect its long-term success. Indianapolis didn't "need" Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez. New England didn't "need" to give up a precious second-rounder for Welker. And Green Bay didn't "need" Nelson with Jennings, Driver, Jones, Ruvell Martin and Koren Robinson in the stable.
But a rich-get-richer mind-set on offense will pay off. Nelson played in a carbon-copy offense of the Packers at Kansas State. Then-coach Ron Prince loved to use multi-receiver threats and insert Nelson at each receiver spot. Unlike Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson in their rookie seasons, Nelson never appeared lost and confused in a West Coast offense. He's done this before.
Go ahead, call it boring. He's CSPAN, a reliable 24/7 network to flip to when all the other cable news channels are on commercials. Nelson may never burn 4.4-second cornerbacks downfield. But as the 50-receptions-per-year, go-to guy on third down, Nelson serves an invaluable purpose for this budding offense. The dial creeping closer to "E" on Driver's fuel gauge and Jennings' three drops in the Detroit finale hint at Nelson's growing worth.
Beyond the two studs absorbing the attention, there needs to be a third option exploiting single coverage underneath — precisely how Indy and New England put up astronomical numbers in 2004 and 2007. Stokley and Welker were kids in candy stores those seasons, each eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark.
The Packers hope they're next. After Jennings and Driver each topped 1,000 yards, expect defensive game plans to resemble a "Triangle-and-2" in basketball. Someone else will need to step up to elbow and knock down that wide-open jumper game-in and game-out. That someone — for many years — may be Jordy Nelson.
Tyler Dunne writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nothing boring about Nelson
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