Packers Annual Checkup: WR Jordy Nelson

Today is the 34th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Sunday, March 3: OT Marshall Newhouse

Monday, March 4: OLB Nick Perry
Tuesday, March 5: DT Ryan Pickett
Wednesday, March 6: TE Andrew Quarless
Thursday, March 7: NT B.J. Raji
Friday, March 8: Aaron Rodgers

Season stats: 14 games (12 regular season, two postseason); 57 receptions, 842 yards, 83 targets, eight dropped passes, four forced missed tackles
Best game: Week 6 win at Houston (11 targets, season-high nine catches, 121 yards, 29 yards after catch, season-high three touchdowns, one dropped pass, one forced missed tackle; season-best 3.2 PFF rating)
Worst game: Week 3 loss at Seattle (three targets, two catches, 54 snaps, 19 yards, 16 yards after catch; season-worst minus-1.5 PFF rating) season rating: 10.0 (fourth-best on Packers offense; second-best among Packers wide receivers; No. 27 out of 105 among NFL wide receivers) 
Expectations at the start of the season: High
Expectations were … Not met
Looking live: Nelson was one of the best receivers in the entire league in 2011. Career-best production in receptions (68), yards (1,263) and touchdowns (15), along with only two drops, skyrocketed expectations for him entering training camp in 2012. However, injuries and drops this past season prevented Nelson from coming anywhere close to repeating that type of year. He was dominant in one game (Week 6 at Houston) and had several other quality performances early in the season. But, once Nelson suffered a hamstring injury midseason, his production fell off considerably. He missed four full games and the vast majority of two additional games. When he was on the field in the second half of the regular season, he didn’t contribute much, totaling just nine catches after the Packers’ Week 10 bye. With Greg Jennings missing more than half the season, it was a chance for Nelson to firmly establish himself as Green Bay’s top receiver. Instead, it was Randall Cobb and James Jones who emerged as Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets, with Nelson settling in behind the two of them. 
Upon further review: It wasn’t a bad season for Nelson. It was, in fact, an above-average season when compared with the rest of the NFL’s wide receivers. For Nelson to still rank in the top 25 percent in many receiving categories despite multiple injuries is impressive. But, it was a step in the wrong direction after a career year in 2011. The most surprising negative aspect of Nelson’s 2012 season was how frequently he dropped catchable passes. After dropping only two passes in 2011 and ranking fourth-best in the entire NFL in drop rate (dropping only 2.86 percent), Nelson found himself on the other end of that list in 2012. This past season, Nelson dropped 14.04 percent of catchable passes thrown his way, ranking him eighth-worst in the NFL. When healthy, though, Nelson — still only 27 years old — hadn’t lost anything physically. He still showed very good speed for his 6-foot-3 frame and nearly had as many yards after catch (5.4) as the speedy Randall Cobb (5.8 YAC). Unfortunately for the Packers, injuries cost Nelson a chance to duplicate his 2011 success. 
Overall 2012 grade: B-
Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being on the Packers’ active roster in Week 1 next season. Nelson has two years left on a contract that has him as one of the best values in the NFL. Jennings will likely not be back in 2013, but Cobb’s role will increase. Jones will return next season for the final year of his current deal, but it’d be quite the accomplishment for him to repeat his incredible 2012 performance. Assuming the team moves on without Jennings, the three-headed attack of Nelson, Cobb and Jones will have the burden of making sure Green Bay’s feared passing attack doesn’t suffer any setbacks. If any of those three suffer significant injuries, the Packers (at least prior to knowing what the team does in the draft or free agency) won’t have as much depth at wide receiver as it has recently. Nelson may never put up numbers as impressive as he did in 2011, but a healthy, productive 1,000-yard type season would be just what Green Bay needs from him.

Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.