Jordy Nelson went form a fantasy afterthought in 2010 to a top-three option in 2011 standard leagues. Unfortunately for Nelson, he doesn’t have anywhere to go but down. Our fourth rated receiver in 2011 (+17.7), Nelson caught 15 touchdowns, just one less than Calvin Johnson caught during his dominating season.
Nelson was only the 36th most targeted receiver, yet he finished in the top-10 for yardage and touchdowns. So how did he pull it off? He had such a successful 2011 because he was very efficient with his time on the field. So efficient, in fact, that it will be nearly impossible for him to repeat.
I compared Nelson’s 2011 performance with three wide receivers who have been “regulars” near the top of the wide receiver position in recent years. They are Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White. The “regulars” totals are from the 2010 and 2011 season combined. Note that the fantasy points section is PPR-based.
When looking at these totals, a few things stick out. For one, Nelson saw nearly 400 snaps less than the “regulars.” He was also targeted 64 less times. Despite this, Nelson still caught 15 touchdowns, well above the average of the “regulars” over the last two seasons.
Here’s another chart breaking down Nelson’s season in comparison to the “regulars” by target percent, TD rate, and PPS:
Nelson was targeted less per snap than the “regulars.” When you remember than Nelson is not Green Bay’s number one receiver, it’s actually surprising that Nelson was targeted almost as often as the other guys. Johnson, easily Detroit’s number one receiver, was targeted on 14.1 percent of his snaps. Nelson’s high target per snap percentage was aided slightly by the fact that Greg Jennings was injured, forcing Nelson into a more important role within Green Bay’s offense.
However, the biggest reason Nelson scored as many fantasy points as he did in 2011 was his TD rate. At 22 percent, Nelson’s TD rate was more than twice as high as PFF’s top 20 rated receivers in 2011. Those 20 receivers caught 146 touchdowns on 1,140 catches for a TD rate of 10 percent.
Another factor that helped fuel Nelson’s amazing 2011 campaign was his proficiency down the field. Nelson had a ridiculous 71.4 percent catch rate on passes thrown 20+ yards down the field. That was the highest deep pass catch rate since PFF started grading back in 2008. The next closest was Fitzgerald’s 2008 season, in which he caught 66.7 percent of deep balls thrown his way. The third highest was 56.5 percent by Kenny Britt in 2010. The point is this: Nelson’s 71.4 percent catch rate was so high that it is unlikely to be repeated. His ability to catch a high number of deep passes led to Nelson register a high 2.98 yards per pass route run (YPRR), sixth highest in the league since 2008 among qualifying wideouts.
If we somewhat normalize Nelson’s season by bringing his TD rate down to a (still high) 14 percent and lowering his deep catch rate to a (still high) 50 percent, we see much different numbers:
Nelson still would have ended with a 1,000-yard, nine-touchdown season — impressive numbers. However, Nelson’s normalized numbers would have netted nearly four less fantasy PPG, a significant decrease.
By now it should be clear that Nelson will be hard-pressed to have as much success in 2012 as he did in 2011. He is currently being drafted in the late third round/early fourth round as a tail-end WR1. If this is where you plan on drafting Nelson, realize that you are taking a gamble. It will take another amazing season from Nelson for him to end in WR1 range. As an established member of Green Bay’s prolific offense, though, Nelson is still a WR2.