Nelson: Comeback award would be 'great honor'
GREEN BAY - Even after the cameras leave and the crowd around his locker disperses, Jordy Nelson is hesitant to reflect.
He won’t say what this 1,000-yard season means to him. The NFL’s touchdown leader? That’s not why he plays.
Nelson couldn’t care less whether he’s a Pro Bowl starter or first alternate. The Green Bay Packers receiver didn’t even know Tuesday was when Pro Bowl rosters would be unveiled.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Nelson said.
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Others do the stump speeches for him. Take his quarterback. Aaron Rodgers didn’t just make a case for Nelson to be in the Pro Bowl one season after the receiver tore his ACL.
To Rodgers, Nelson’s return deserves singular recognition.
“Should be Comeback Player of the Year for sure,” Rodgers said, “the way that he's bounced back from that ACL and been extremely productive.”
It takes a village to resurrect a career. Nelson’s long road back didn’t really begin with knee surgery, but an operation to clean up hip impingement after the 2014 season.
He spent 20 months away from the field. Before the Packers' opener at Jacksonville, Nelson’s last catch had come in the 2014 NFC championship game at Seattle. His last touchdown was a month before that.
He won’t reflect on the journey. Not in the middle of a playoff chase. Ask him after the season, he said.
The closest Nelson comes, after the crowd around his locker scatters, is when his quarterback’s Comeback Player of the Year recommendation is mentioned.
“It’d be a great honor,” Nelson said. “It’s an award you don’t want to win, but you do want to win. And the reason why I think it’d be great is to honor all the people who put the work in the last year and a half. From all the surgeries I’ve had from 2014, or whatever, to just honor them.
“The trainers, the weight staff, our nutritionist, our coaches — everyone that put in the extra time, has been in this building a year and a half straight, rehabbing and everything. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to honor them and kind of reward them.”
In any year, Nelson makes a compelling case as the league’s top comeback player.
He immediately reestablished himself as the Packers' top receiver. Nelson had a touchdown in his first game back. A touchdown in his second game. Two touchdowns in his third. Another touchdown in his fourth.
He leads the NFL with 12 touchdown catches this season, within reach of his career-high of 15 in 2011. He ranks eighth with 1,037 yards. Nelson is one of four receivers with 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
The other three: Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans.
Even the narrative fits. Nelson entered Sunday’s game needing 87 yards — matching his No. 87 — to cross 1,000. Before his 60-yard catch from Rodgers that set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal, he had 977 on the season.
Talk about a perfect time to cross the millennial mark.
“I knew I needed 87, ironically, with my number,” Nelson said. “I honestly didn’t know how deep that (final pass) was, but obviously that’s the thing. If you get a big ball like that, most likely you get over 100. I knew I’d be really close if not over it.
“I actually saw it when I was doing the postgame interview with FOX. The Bears had their stats running on their sideboard of leading receivers.”
Nelson might be a runaway favorite in any other year. In 2016, the competition is tougher.
He just happened to make this comeback in the same season Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is making history. Bell has 1,146 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground, along with 72 catches for 601 yards and a touchdown, despite playing just 11 games.
Bell had the second-most yards from scrimmage (1,616) through his first 10 games this season in NFL history. Only Hall of Fame tailback Jim Brown had more (1,704 in 1963).
A Pro Bowler, Bell ranks third in the league in rushing despite missing three games. It could be argued Bell is having the better season, but Nelson is coming back from the more severe injury. Bell played six games last season before tearing his medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament. He also missed three games this season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
It’ll be interesting to see how voters consider the two comeback players. Nelson certainly has other things to focus on.
“We’ve got two more weeks and a playoff run,” Nelson said. “I’ll be honest, the personal numbers are great, but we need to make a run at this. That’s all that matters. If we come up short of the playoffs, it definitely isn’t worth it. We play the game to win. Win games and get into the playoffs and get into the Super Bowl. That’s what we’re worried about.”