Few players vying for Comeback Player of the Year mean as much to their team as Jordy Nelson. Often times, these are players who exceeded expectations coming off of injury, but for Nelson, he is a candidate because he has reminded us those expectations should have been way higher in the first place. With one game left in the regular season, Jordy Nelson has the most receiving touchdowns in the league, the fifth-most receptions, and the sixth-most receiving yards – numbers so good it is easy to forget preseason concerns about an over-the-hill wide receiver coming off a serious ACL injury.
Nelson has sparked a rejuvenated Packers offense that looks much more like the offense of 2014 than 2015. The Packers have rebounded from 23rd in total offense in 2015 to 10th in total offense in 2016.
2015 season a down year for Packers
His absence last season after an ACL injury in the preseason was painfully obvious. After a hot 6-0 start, the Packers offense was exposed by a Broncos defense that limited Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards on 22 attempts in route to a 29-10 loss. The Broncos demonstrated a clear and simple defensive game plan that would be successfully replicated by teams with far less talent on the defensive side of the ball: use physical, man-to-man coverage. Rodgers severe lack of trust and chemistry with his wide receiving corps never improved, and the Packers finished the year 25th in passing yards per game and Rodgers posted the worst passer rating of his career.
The 2016 Packers were not fixed overnight by the return of Jordy Nelson. The same malaise and inconsistency that the Packers offense succumbed to in 2015 existed in the first half of this season as well. Eddie Lacy got hurt, the Packers lacked a running game, and Nelson looked noticeably slower coming back from his ACL injury.
Things looking up
Since the Packers 47-25 loss to the Tennessee Titans, however, the Packers are 5-1 and Rodgers’ numbers have rebounded significantly. His yards per attempt are up significantly and his touchdown to interception ratio is 14-0. Over this same six-game period, Nelson’s numbers are up too. He has 556 yards on 41 receptions and has caught six touchdowns. He appears quicker and fully recovered from his injury. The offensive turnaround cannot be credited solely to his resurgence, but most importantly, Rodgers and Nelson are back on the same page, and the offense is operating with renewed confidence.
Overall, Jordy Nelson is not just having a season worthy of Comeback Player of the Year, but he has compiled one of the best seasons of his career. He needs 7 receptions on Sunday against the Lions to tie his 2014 high mark of 98 receptions. His 14 touchdown receptions are one less than his career high in 2011. While his yards per reception (13.1) is down from his career average (14.9), his average is still higher than other high-profile wide receivers, including Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, and DeAndre Hopkins.
Nelson’s numbers alone make him a better choice than other candidates, including Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell and Dolphin’s defensive lineman Cameron Wake. But his value to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense sets him apart, and Jordy Nelson is the clear choice for this year’s Comeback Player of the Year.