The media has given a lot of attention to the anticipated rise in stardom for Randall Cobb now that Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are no longer on the Packers roster. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers fueled the media buzz this offseason by expressing optimism that Cobb could be a 100-catch guy.
All this plays very well into the hands of Jordy Ray Nelson. It can only help Nelson that Cobb will be distracting defenses wherever he lines up.
Let’s rewind a little. Nelson was on a pace to finish the 2012 season with at least 90 catches and 10 touchdowns before injuries impacted his playing time. A pulled hamstring before week 8 and a sprained ankle in week 9 kept him out of four games and limited his mobility in other contests. This resulted in additional looks to the other members of the Packers receiving corps while Jordy hobbled on the sidelines.
Here are the Packers receiving stats after seven games in 2012 just before Nelson’s injuries. What stands out is Nelson’s lead in the number of targets, catches and yards. He was clearly the number one receiver, except for the red zone.
|Jordy Nelson|| |
|Randall Cobb|| |
|James Jones|| |
|Greg Jennings|| |
|Jermichael Finley|| |
ESPN gives a glowing endorsement of Nelson this preseason:
With Greg Jennings gone, Aaron Rodgers’ top three WRs will be Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones; certainly in ’12, Nelson was the least-valuable fantasy commodity of that group. But we remember his 1,263-yard, 15-TD campaign from ’11 when Nelson made 16 plays of 25-plus yards. He’s officially the burner in this Green Bay offense now, and while he probably won’t lead the Pack in targets, he very well could go back to leading them in TDs.
Nelson’s experience and physical attributes give him an edge over the other Packer receivers when he is healthy. Consider his speed (4.5), height (6-3), wingspan, and a nasty stiff arm. Here’s what Nelson did with that stiff arm to 5-9 Alphonso Smith of the Lions in January 2012.
There are not many wide receivers in the league at 6-3 or taller, but the elite receivers fit this big man mold: Calvin Johnson (6-5), Vincent Jackson (6-5), A.J. Green (6-4), Brandon Marshall (6-4), Larry Fitzgerald (6-3), Andre Johnson (6-3), Julio Jones (6-3), Demaryius Thomas (6-3).
If Rodgers lines up and sees Nelson in man-to-man coverage against a cornerback who is 5-10, something that occurs more often than you think, Nelson has five inches on the guy. Rodgers does the quick math and usually likes the odds in that situation. As in this play, Nelson lines up against 5-10 Marcus Sherels of the Vikings. The mismatch didn’t escape Rodgers’ eyes.
Here’s a list of NFC North cornerbacks currently projected as starters on their team’s depth charts, and their respective heights.
Minnesota: LCB Chris Cook, 6-2; RCB Xavier Rhodes, 6-1
Chicago: LCB Tim Jennings, 5-8; RCB Charles Tillman, 6-1
Detroit: LCB Chris Houston, 5-10; RCB Darius Slay 6-0
Nelson has at least a two-inch height advantage over all of them except Chris Cook. Cobb, at 5-10, will not enjoy a height mismatch with most of these corners.
After reviewing game film from last year, the smaller cornerbacks who cover Nelson typically line up five or six yards off the line of scrimmage. This provides a cushion for Nelson to run a short come-back route, and using his long arms and frame, he can shield the ball from the defender, resulting in a short gain. This is a high percentage play. It also sets up the double-move for longer pass plays later in the game. Nelson also knows how to break off his route and find an opening when Rodgers starts scrambling.
If the smaller cornerbacks try to cover Nelson in tight man-to-man, the result might be what the Giants Corey Webster experienced on this play.
Nelson also has a knack for gaining separation legally by using his long arms to push off against defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage (and sometimes beyond). Nelson displays this skill and uses his height and speed to full advantage against the Texans’ 5-11 Quentin Demps with this TD reception.
The only caveat is Nelson’s health. At 28 years of age, can he remain healthy the entire season? Other receivers older than Nelson have demonstrated it’s not impossible to come back from nagging injuries and have great years. Andre Johnson, at 32, completed a very productive 16-game season in 2012 and finished second in the NFL in yards coming of an injury-plagued 2011 season.
Cobb’s youth, he’s a mere lad of 22, gives him the advantage regarding health, to say nothing of his superior speed and breakaway running skills. But if Rodgers lines up and sees a desirable mismatch involving Jordy Nelson, well, there’s a reason his QB rating is one of the best all-time. It will be difficult not to check Nelson first.
My apologies to James Jones, who is not chopped liver. His improved play and red zone dominance shouldn’t be ignored. I just think the facts support a bigger year for Nelson.
What do you think? Which Packer do you think will become their number 1 receiver in 2012?