Jordy Nelson's return gives Packers a fantasy boost
There’s something to be said for the routine, the predictable, especially when it comes to fantasy football. The guys you know you can count on provide a certain level of comfort. Digging deep for a surprise player is great, and it will win you your league, but every now and then it’s nice to have a player you can just pencil in for dominance and forget about.
Until last year, you could count on a whole host of Green Bay Packers. But take away a key component like Jordy Nelson with little time to adjust before the start of the season, and things just won’t be the same. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers should have the whole gang back together this year, so let’s look at whether they’ll be back to their previously predictable ways.
2011-2014: Huge consistency
Greg Jennings left Green Bay in 2012, but even before that, Nelson was a big-time contributor starting with his 2011 breakout and Cobb’s debut. He filled the field-stretching role, with Randall Cobb (and Donald Driver for a bit) in the slot, and guys like James Jones and Davante Adams, along with some other names, intermittently filling the No. 3 spot.
In the four years he’s played since his breakout, Nelson has offered strong consistency as far as his average depth of target goes. While his other numbers have fluctuated (particularly around his injury-abbreviated 2012), Nelson has had an aDOT between 11.3 and 12.8 all four years, falling under 12.0 only once, in 2013.
Putting all the numbers into a chart, below are the aDOT numbers for Nelson, Cobb, Donald Driver in 2011 and the Packers’ No. 3 receiver (Jones 2011-2013, then Adams 2014) from 2011 to 2014.
|Year||Nelson aDOT||Cobb/Driver aDOT||Jones/Adams aDOT|
All three stayed very consistent over the four-year sample, with even the outliers in the data staying well within range of the standards. Catch rates, too, stayed consistent; Nelson’s never left 67-73 percent, Cobb’s stayed between 73 and 78. Jones’ fell with 67 and 70 percent, with Adams putting up a slightly worse number in 2014.
The receiver machine in Green Bay was churning well for those four years. But losing Nelson in 2014 through that out of whack for 2015.
The (relatively) bad year
With Nelson off the field with a torn ACL last year, the Packers had to scramble. They signed Jones back after the Giants released him in the preseason, and the veteran nominally filled the Nelson role, with Cobb and Adams still in their old roles.
The aDOTs and catch percentages, though, went haywire in the reshuffle. Cobb, the primary holdover, saw his catch percentage dip to 64 with an aDOT of 7.5, both career lows. Jones, in the Nelson role, had an aDOT of 15.9 (well out of whack with any established Green Bay numbers) and a low catch percentage of 56. And Adams scuffled through a rough year, catching 57 percent of his passes with a 10.5 aDOT.
In short, the Green Bay offense was completely different in 2015. Cobb had his worst season. Jones was filling a role he never had before for Green Bay. Adams was a prime fantasy add after Nelson’s injury, but was a disappointment all year, grading out as PFF’s second-worst receiver in 2015, besting only Nelson Agholor.
The thinking before 2015 was that Rodgers and the Green Bay offense could plug and play just about any receiver, but that proved to not be the case in 2015.
The season to come
The good news is that Rodgers still managed to throw for 3,821 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions in 2015. It wasn’t really a bad year until you add the “by his standards” caveat. He’ll be getting the biggest component of his machine back, but he’s not in the clear just yet. Nelson must be close to the same player he was in order for this offense to be in tip-top shape, and while he’s had a full year to recover from his ACL tear, he is going to be 31 years old when the season starts.
If anything, Nelson’s return should help Cobb return to being the legit top-20 wide receiver he’s been in years past (No. 6 in 2014, No. 7 in 2013 on a per-game basis, No. 18 in 2012). And while Adams has struggled, if they give him one more year behind Nelson and Cobb, there’s every reason to believe he could at least match the competent numbers he put up in 2014. If he continues to struggle, both Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery are all waiting in the wings for their shot. No one behind Cobb and Nelson is really a fantasy option yet, but they’re worth monitoring on waiver wires.
The addition of tight end Jared Cook to the offense isn’t likely to have significant effect on how Rodgers will play the game. Between Cook’s drops (he’s led the position two of the last three years) and his PFF grade (48th of 73 tight ends last year), he carries only nominal value, and will be splitting time with last year’s quasi-breakout guy, Richard Rodgers. There won’t be much quantity for either guy, perhaps even for both combined, meaning it’s a situation that will be very touchdown-reliant, and one to avoid.
With Nelson returning, Cobb hopefully improving and running back Eddie Lacy reportedly slimming down, odds are with the Packers’ offense getting back on track for 2016. So long as those caveats are met, Green Bay should be back to being its predictable, routine group that helps fantasy owners win their leagues.