Jordy Nelson scored the most fantasy points among all receivers last season, and finished second to only Antonio Brown in fantasy points per game. He isn’t being drafted that way this season, and rightfully so, for two main reasons: his age, and fear of regression in both efficiency and volume. However, just how far his stock should fall, and whether he is worthy of a first-round pick, is something worth considering this draft season.
Nelson’s efficiency last season came in large part from the work he did in the red zone, as he had the eighth highest target share among all wide receivers last season inside the 20. This translated to 14 touchdowns, which is an incredible pace to maintain over a full season, but also presents two causes for concern heading into 2017.
First, the team is likely to want to run the ball more. The Green Bay backfield was beset by injuries and ineffectiveness for much of the 2016 season, and even once Ty Montgomery stepped up at the position, he was a better contributor as a receiver than runner. Because of this, the Packers had the fifth most passing attempts in the NFL. This stands in contrast to seasons when the team did have a capable back, as in 2015 they had the 18th most pass attempts in the league.
With Montgomery having a full offseason to become more acclimated as a runner, and with the additions of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones via the draft, chances are high that the Packers will find at least one capable running back to give carries to, making chances slim that they match their passing volume from last season.
Nelson’s volume will likely be attacked from another angle this season with the addition of Martellus Bennett and the expected bounce-back of Randall Cobb. Last season, Cobb recorded only 84 targets and four touchdowns, both of which are his lowest since 2013 when he played in just six games.
Meanwhile, it’s been quite some time since the Packers had a tight end that played a featured role in their offense, but Martellus Bennett has that chance this season. Between Cobb and Bennett, Nelson’s target share could be lessened by both the offensive philosophy and replenishment of Aaron Rodgers’ available weapons.
However, all is not lost for Nelson, as the Packers’ offense has the shown ability to support several receivers. For example, in 2011, Nelson reeled in 15 touchdowns despite Greg Jennings grabbing nine, Jermichael Finley eight, James Jones seven, and Donald Driver six. In a more recent example, in 2014, Jordy Nelson grabbed 13 touchdowns despite Randall Cobb reeling in 12 touchdowns and Eddie Lacy scoring 13 total touchdowns. Thus, having multiple weapons on the offensive side of the ball is not a death knell to Nelson’s productivity.
The other major concern for Nelson is age. He is now 32 and is still just one year beyond an ACL tear. Nelson’s ability in the red zone was already discussed, but Nelson was excellent in every area of the field as indicated by his fantasy points per target mark of 2.01, good for 12th in the league. Banking on a repeat of those numbers would be a lot to ask of a player in their prime, let alone someone entering their age 32 season with a recently surgically repaired knee.
Again, however, this is no reason to bury Nelson in the short term. Consider Nelson’s splits from last season: through the first eight games he posted 39 receptions, 509 yards, and seven touchdowns, whereas from weeks nine through 16 he posted 59 receptions for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. These numbers not only dispel the notion that Nelson can’t succeed at his age, but also provides the counter-narrative that his health improved as the season moved on and that he will play the entire 2017 season at full strength.
Nelson’s current ADP is 2.03 and spans from 1.05 to 3.02. While taking at 1.05 would have to be a part of a conscious strategy to go zero RB at all costs in order for the pick to make sense, fantasy owners should feel comfortable drafting Nelson anywhere from the ninth pick and later. He is a bonafide first round pick with at least one more great season of productivity in front of him. Draft him with confidence.