No Half Nelson
When looked at in sum, Jordy Nelson was one of the best fantasy wideouts in 2013. He scored 265 fantasy points in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, 13th most of all receivers. In standard leagues, he was the 11th highest-scoring receiving. In other words, he was a borderline WR1 no matter how you slice it.
But we can’t look at Nelson’s final statistics and call it a day. His season was decisively altered when Aaron Rodgers got injured.
It’s hard to call Nelson a “sleeper” — he has been a third-round draft pick in fantasy leagues each of the past two seasons, and is going high in drafts again so far in 2014 — but he seems to be one of the least touted receivers within the upper echelon. But with a healthy Rodgers back in 2014, Nelson could quietly be a top-five (or even top-three) receiver.
With Rodgers at the helm in 2013 — Weeks 1-8 and Week 17 — Nelson was the third highest scoring fantasy receiver (172 points) in PPR leagues. On a points-per-game basis, he was the second highest scoring receiver in those weeks, behind only Calvin Johnson
During the Rodgers-less half of the season — Weeks 9-16 — Nelson scored 92 fantasy points and was the 30th highest scoring wide receiver.
Put another way: Nelson was one of the three best fantasy wide receivers for the half-season in which Rodgers played and a mere flex option the other half. The negative impact Rodgers’ injury had on Green Bay’s receivers — Nelson in particular — has been undersold.
The above figures tell the story, but here are more in case the picture isn’t clear: Nelson averaged 21.5 fantasy PPG with Rodgers at quarterback and 11.5 PPG without; he caught eight of his nine touchdowns from Rodgers; he had nearly 900 yards with Rodgers and about 500 without; he caught 56 passes in games with Rodgers and just 36 in games without, an average of 2.5 fewer receptions per game.
Here’s the real kicker: If we take the eight games Nelson played with Rodgers and extrapolate them over a full season, Nelson would have scored 344 fantasy points. Demaryius Thomas, who ended 2013 with the most fantasy points among all receivers, scored 318.5.
That’s no scientific formula, and it certainly does not guarantee Nelson would have ended 2013 as the best fantasy receiver had Rodgers remained upright, but it is telling nonetheless.
Additionally, James Jones is no longer in Green Bay, and while 2013 was a down year for him, he had established himself as a reliable scoring threat in previous years. Jones caught 29 touchdowns from 2010-2012, including 15 in 2012 alone. No Jones is no assurance Nelson will score more touchdowns, but it does mean more scoring opportunities will be on the table.
As fantasy football teaches us every year, no two seasons are created equal. Previous success does not spell more of the same. But when looking at 2013, it’s abundantly clear that Rodgers’ injury crippled Nelson’s fantasy value.
On the bright side, that gives us reason to expect great things from Nelson in 2014.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool. Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts. The 2014 PFF Draft Guide is also available to order now.
Image: Brian Giesen/flickr