Packers leader in targets, Nelson not worried about the one on his back
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jordy Nelson doesn’t expect the entire season to play out like the first two games have for the Green Bay Packers offense. With 30 passes already sent Nelson’s way, the star wide receiver would break nearly every significant NFL record if it did continue at such an alarming rate.
It’s not just the targets that have Nelson on pace for an all-time great season. His 292 receiving yards and 18 catches, if averaged out for 16 games, would far surpass Calvin Johnson’s league record of 1,964 yards from 2012 and edge out Marvin Harrison’s NFL record from 2002 of 143 receptions.
"I don’t think we’re going to worry about the targets, to be honest with you," Nelson said. "I think we’re just going to go with what the defense is giving us and whatever Aaron (Rodgers) is feeling. The first two games I don’t think are going to be what’s going to continue throughout the whole season. I think he’ll just continue to move the ball and go to the hot hand, or whatever it is, or however he’s feeling."
There’s no doubt that Nelson has the hot hand right now. But while Rodgers has traditionally spread the ball around relatively evenly to a variety of players, Nelson has accounted for 55 percent of the Packers’ receiving yards. Nelson’s 30 targets — which even he admitted has been "a lot" — are twice as many as Green Bay’s next-most used receiver, Randall Cobb, who has 15. And Cobb, who has the second-most receiving yards on the team, isn’t even over 100 yards yet. Meanwhile, Nelson is eight yards away from 300.
"There’s no issue from our end of it," head coach Mike McCarthy said of Nelson’s usage.
But, long-term, is there perhaps an issue with one receiver being so prominent in the offense? Johnson’s incredible, record-setting 2012 season came for a 4-12 Detroit Lions team. Last season, Josh Gordon’s 1,646 receiving yards placed him No. 10 on the NFL’s all-time rankings in that category, but he accomplished that feat for the 4-12 Cleveland Browns.
The 2014 Packers are a better team than the 2012 Lions and the 2013 Browns were, but the vast difference in production between Nelson and the rest of Green Bay’s pass-catchers is difficult to ignore.
"I’m not too worried about that, and I hope they aren’t either," Rodgers said. "This is a long season and guys will get different opportunities throughout the year."
By midseason, it’s possible that the distribution of passes will have somewhat evened out. But this isn’t a team with multiple proven playmakers for Rodgers to throw to anymore. Greg Jennings is in Minnesota, James Jones is in Oakland, Donald Driver is in Hollywood and Jermichael Finley is in recovery after having potentially career-ending neck surgery.
Now, the Packers’ second-most proven receiver, Cobb, just turned 24 years old and has yet to have a 1,000-yard season. Cobb is on pace for 776 yards this season. Behind him is a 21-year-old rookie in Davante Adams and a 24-year-old Jarrett Boykin who was undrafted and No. 6 on the depth chart two years ago.
"When your primary is winning the one-on-one battle, they’re going to get the football," Rodgers said. "That’s why Jordy got the ball so much (against the New York Jets). As we settle into our protections and settle into our roles, guys will get even more opportunities."
It’s certainly worthwhile to analyze just how remarkable Nelson’s involvement in Green Bay’s offense so far has been and project whether it can continue. However, that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Nelson might be finally bursting into the conversation of being among the league’s best receivers.
Despite a 15-touchdown, 1,263-yard season in 2011 and an 85-catch, 1,314-yard season in 2013, Nelson has never been an All-Pro or even been named to a single Pro Bowl. Not that it bothers Nelson much, if at all.
"I’m not worried about if I’m elite, top 5, top 10, whatever people want to talk about," Nelson said. "I’m here to do my job and that’s run good routes. If the numbers produce like they have the last two games, then great. As long as we’re winning. If I’d have had 209 yards and we’d have lost the game, then it would have been the worst game ever. And to me there’s things that I left out on that field that I’ve got to get better and make more plays. And that’s what I want to do."
Though Rodgers’ eyes are often looking his way on the field, Nelson prefers not to be in the spotlight. His celebration often consists of handing the ball to an official. After games, Nelson just stands in front of his locker to answer questions from reporters.
But after Nelson’s 16-target, nine-catch, 209-yard game in the win over the Jets, he couldn’t avoid the spotlight. Nelson was told he had to speak with the media from the podium — a first in his career — that is usually only used by Rodgers, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson.
"I didn’t want to do it," Nelson said. "it’s just awkward being up there. It singles you out. So I didn’t want to do it, but they (Packers public relations staff) suggested it’d be easier on everyone if we did. So they’re the ones in charge."
Nelson isn’t sure whether he’ll see double- or triple-team coverages from the Detroit Lions this weekend or from any other upcoming opponents. It wouldn’t be a first for him if he did, but this is different now. Rodgers has so clearly favored Nelson that it seems defenses would be foolish to guard him just like everybody else.
"If it’s 30 (targets) or if it’s 5, I can’t control any of it," Nelson said. "I’ve just got to do my job and run my routes the way I’m supposed to."
The scariest part for the rest of the league is that Nelson believes he and Rodgers haven’t been on the same page as often as they have been in the past.
"That’s the surprising thing to me," Nelson said. "I told that to my wife the other day. I don’t know what that’s all about."
If Nelson does eventually sync up better with Rodgers, the 29-year-old receiver might do more than be a first-time Pro Bowl selection or All-Pro this season. He might find himself atop the NFL’s all-time rankings in several key categories.
"I always go about it the same way," Nelson said. "However the numbers turn out, they do. We’re not trying to do anything different than what we’ve done in the past, so we’re just going to continue to grind at it and work at it and move forward."
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