Nelson lived up to 'unrealistic' expectations

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers return from their bye week, the introductory phase of Jordy Nelson’s recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament has come and gone. The questions about his endurance, his comfort level and his chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers all have been asked and answered — many of them more than once — which makes this week, the beginning of the season's second stanza, an adequate time to reflect.

Consider Nelson’s production within the context of his own team: He leads the Packers in receptions with 17. He leads the Packers in receiving yards with 206. He leads the Packers in touchdown receptions with four.

The players behind him in those same categories have 12 receptions (Randall Cobb), 132 receiving yards (also Cobb) and two touchdown catches (Davante Adams).

“Frankly, I think we made it difficult on Jordy,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I think expectations on him were unrealistic. For him to come out of the preseason and think he’s going to go down to Jacksonville and perform, I think he’s exceeded the reality that I had for him. I think he’s done a great job.”

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And he has. To think that Nelson, whose last meaningful game before the season opener took place 20 months prior in the 2014 NFC championship game against Seattle, would play 54 snaps on a scorching Jacksonville afternoon was far-fetched. To think that he would play 68 of a possible 71 snaps in Week 2 against Minnesota was farcical.

He came back down to Earth slightly by missing five snaps in the win over Detroit last week.

“Football players have to play,” McCarthy said. “They have to play in games, they have to play in live action. It’s not really about them, it’s more about who they’re playing with, the timing, all the things that go into it. We took the safe, high road bringing him back, and it worked. That’s a good thing. And he’s been through playing in 110-degree weather the first time back in a live game since the 2014 NFC championship game. That’s a huge hurdle for anybody; he jumped over that.”

But the impossibly high standards Nelson established pre-surgery have meant that his production in 2016 feels pedestrian when juxtaposed with the rest of the league. His team-high totals in receptions and yards rank t-48th and 49th, respectively, through the first four weeks of the season. (His four touchdowns, however, are tied for first.)

And even though the rest of the league played an extra game, Nelson is nine receptions and 163 yards behind the top five wideouts in either category. Had the Packers played this weekend, Nelson would have needed three more catches and 62 more yards than he amassed in any game this season just to break the top five. An unlikely proposition at best.

“I think he’s progressed each and every week,” McCarthy said. “I think if you watched the Detroit game, you can see a lot of things that you’re accustomed to seeing when Jordy plays, so I think he’s doing a heck of a job for the schedule he’s on coming back. We took as much risk out of it as we could, and he’s benefited from that. But it was a big challenge for him.”

Still, Nelson’s three-game totals compare somewhat favorably to his totals from equivalent time periods over the last five years, beginning in 2011 when Nelson had his first 1,000-yard season:

  • 2016: 17 catches, 206 yards, four touchdowns
  • 2015: torn ACL
  • 2014: 23 catches, 351 yards, one touchdown
  • 2013: 18 catches, 289 yards, three touchdowns
  • 2012: 13 catches, 167 yards, zero touchdowns
  • 2011: 10 catches, 201 yards, two touchdowns

Perhaps the old Jordy Nelson is not too far away.

“I think a lot of the expectations that were put on him were unrealistic and probably not fair, but he’s definitely met the challenge,” McCarthy said. “That’s a real credit to Jordy.”

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