Jordy Nelson can finally call himself a Pro Bowler.
After being snubbed in recent years, the Green Bay Packers' receiver parlayed the best season of his seven-year career into his first selection. Nelson was one of five Packers voted to the Pro Bowl, joining quarterback Aaron Rodgers, guard Josh Sitton, fullback John Kuhn and linebacker Clay Matthews.
Seven others were named alternates: left tackle David Bakhtiari, guard T.J. Lang, receiver Randall Cobb, running back Eddie Lacy, linebacker Julius Peppers, and cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Those individuals would be called upon to replace any players out with injury or competing in the Super Bowl.
The proliferation of NFL passing offenses has made it increasingly difficult for receivers to distinguish themselves, but Nelson's 92 catches for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns couldn't be ignored even at a position flush with talent. He needs 65 receiving yards in Sunday's regular-season finale against Detroit to break Robert Brooks' single-season franchise record set in 1995.
Nelson had a pair of 1,200-yard seasons on his ledger prior to this season, but his performance in the wake of the four-year extension he signed in July left little doubt.
"To be honored with a Pro Bowl selection, I don't know how to explain it," said Nelson in comments distributed by the Packers. "It's just great to be recognized by your peers, coaches and fans for what you are able to do on the field and what our team has been able to do on the field. The recognition comes with the team's success."
The five "first-ballot" selections are the most since 2011 when the Packers went 15-1. A year ago, the Packers were shutout of the original vote, though Lacy eventually made it as an injury replacement.
Rodgers and Matthews lead the Packers with their fourth original selections and return to the Pro Bowl following injury-riddled 2013 seasons. Matthews, who also went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2009, made a midseason shift to inside linebacker after the bye week and has responded with 58 tackles and a team-high 10 sacks.
Rodgers was the top-vote getter in the fan vote and has inserted in the race for a second MVP award in throwing for 4,155 yards and 36 touchdowns with five interceptions. Kuhn has played only 169 offensive snaps (17.2 percent) this season, but continues to fill a vital role in the offense at 32 years old. He previously was selected in 2011.
Sitton has started all 15 regular-season games despite tearing ligaments in his left big toe in New Orleans on Oct. 26.
The seventh-year left guard was named second-team All-Pro last year, but still wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl. He went as an injury replacement in 2012, but admits being selected on the initial ballot means a little more.
"It very much does," said Sitton, who will earn a $250,000 bonus for his selection. "I might have told you it didn't before, but that would have been a lie. It definitely does mean more."
The 2015 Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 25 in Scottsdale, Ariz., with teams no longer being determined by conference affiliation. This past year a draft has selected the two squads. The Pro Bowl process is a culmination of fan, player and coaches' vote.
Of course, those Packers selected wouldn't be able to play in the game if they're competing in the Super Bowl the following week.
"Without a doubt, the key to our success this year has been everybody pulling their weight," Rodgers said. "It is fun to know those guys will be there, but hopefully we are not playing in the game."
The five selections were:
QB Aaron Rodgers (2014, 2012, 2011, 2009): Rodgers' fourth Pro Bowl selection could be a precursor to his second MVP selection. He's thrown for 4,155 yards, 36 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 111.0 passer rating is second in the NFL. Rodgers was the top vote-getter in the league in the fan voting.
WR Jordy Nelson (2014): Nelson has responded to the four-year, $39 million extension he signed in July with the best season of his career. For his efforts, he's been selected to his first Pro Bowl. With one game remaining, Nelson has caught a career-high 92 catches for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns. He needs 65 yards in Sunday's regular-season finale against Detroit to break Robert Brooks' single-season franchise record set in 1995.
FB John Kuhn (2014, 2011): Kuhn has 21 carries for 79 yards and one touchdown. He's played only 169 offensive snaps (17.2 percent) this season. He took a pay cut to return to Green Bay on a one-year, $1 million contract, but continues to fill a vital role in the offense at 32 years old. The Packers have expanded on the utilization of three-receiver, two-back formations over the last month. "John Kuhn would be a great one to get in because John, he's had one of his best seasons for us," Rodgers said. "You know, he's been very reliable in our packages that he's been on, he's been blocking his butt off. And it would be a great thing for him late in his career."
G Josh Sitton (2014, 2012): A second-team All-Pro selection last year, the seventh-year left guard has started in all 15 regular-season games despite tearing ligaments in his left big toe against New Orleans on Oct. 26.
LB Clay Matthews (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009): Matthews returns to the Pro Bowl after having his 2013 season derailed by a twice-broken right thumb. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that this has been Matthews' best season in the wake of his midseason switch to inside linebacker. Matthews leads the Packers with 10 sacks, along with 58 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception.
"It really allowed me to showcase my talents as well as help this defense in different ways," said Matthews, who reached double digit sacks this past weekend for the fourth time in his career.
"I take pride in my abilities out there whether it's rushing the passer, stopping the run or playing man to man. I think it's been fun for me to learn a new position and really allow my football acumen to kind of build a little more. I think it will only help me out later on in my career."