Do the math: Jordy Nelson is tough to replace
Wanted: 1,500 yards from scrimmage. If in possession of such abundance, contact the Green Bay Packers.
Injury has done what few defenders could. One awkward landing in a meaningless preseason game has derailed the most productive trio in Packers history.
Instead of continuing their collective assault on the record book, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson have been reduced by one. Cobb and Lacy remain, but Nelson is out for the season after having torn his ACL in a 24-19 loss in Pittsburgh on Aug. 23.
One imagines the three would have been a success in whatever profession they had chosen. Planning a wedding? Book the Nelson-Cobb-Lacy trio. In legal trouble? Call the law firm of Lacy, Nelson and Cobb.
Now a new name — likely multiple names — will have to replace Nelson on that shingle of excellence. Just how daunting that task is becomes clear with a look at last season’s numbers.
The Packers have been blessed with offensive talent throughout much of their history. Jim Taylor, Max McGee and Paul Hornung became the first trio to surpass 3,000 yards from scrimmage in a season in 1961. Nineteen years later, Eddie Lee Ivery, James Lofton and Gerry Ellis topped 3,500.
The 4,000-yard barrier fell in 1997 when Dorsey Levens, Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks totaled 4,091 yards. That remained the team record — with only Ahman Green, Javon Walker and Donald Driver (4,032 in 2004) coming close — until last season.
Lacy (1,566 yards), Nelson (1,519) and Cobb (1,324) combined for 4,409 yards in 2014. They blew up the existing record by more than 300 yards.
Only the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller were more productive with 4,687 yards.
In all but one game — that a 19-7 defeat in Detroit — one or more of the Packers’ trio scored at least one touchdown. At least one of the three surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage in 14 games, including the final 13 in a row.
During those 13 games, the three amassed 300 or more yards five times, including a run of three straight against the Saints, Bears and Eagles. They helped themselves to a season-high 352 yards in a 53-20 rout of Philadelphia.
Only twice did they finish with fewer than 200 yards. Seattle held them to 186 yards in the opener, and the Lions permitted 133 yards in Week 3.
The Packers lost both games.
Lacy, Nelson and Cobb did not miss a game in 2014. As such, they did not lack for opportunity.
The trio combined for 20 or more touches in all 16 regular-season games. They closed with a season-high 41 (for 298 yards) in a 30-20 win over the Lions in Week 17.
All three set personal bests in receptions and yards. Nelson led the way (98-1,519), followed by Cobb (91-1,287 yards) and Lacy (42-427).
Each player surpassed 1,250 yards from scrimmage, a first in team history. Lacy and Nelson joined Edgar Bennett and Brooks (1995) to become only the second Packers running back and receiver to each exceed 1,500 yards in the same season.
Cobb, Lacy and Nelson were primed to demolish the team record for yards from scrimmage in consecutive seasons. They needed just 3,263 yards in 2015 — more than 1,000 yards less than they gained in 2014 — to better the 7,671 yards earned by Green, Walker and Driver in 2003 and 2004.
Now the three may never do so. Nelson will be 31 next summer, and who’s to say the trio remains intact through 2017?
Teams that field 4,000-yard trios tend to be successful. There have been 35 instances this century and 23 of those teams posted winning records.
Of course, the Packers can win without such a combo. They brought home an NFL championship in 2010 with Greg Jennings (1,264), Brandon Jackson (1,045) and James Jones (679) falling just short of 3,000 yards.
If there is a silver lining to the loss of Nelson, it might lie with the young talent on the Packers’ roster (and the re-signing of Jones). If Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and others can combine to replace one third of the most productive trio in team history, such diversity might bode well for a team seeking to reach Super Bowl 50.
The Packers had 25 instances of players amassing more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 2014. Lacy (10 times), Nelson (7) and Cobb (6) accounted for the bulk of the output. James Starks and Davante Adams each went over 100 yards once.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most yards from scrimmage gained by three Packers players in one season.
E. Lacy, J. Nelson, R. Cobb
D. Levens, A. Freeman, R. Brooks
A. Green, J. Walker, D. Driver
E. Bennett, R. Brooks, M. Chmura
D. Levens, A. Freeman, B. Schroeder
A. Green, B. Schroeder, A. Freeman