StaTuesday: Jones nowhere near the deep threat Nelson was

Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones played together in Green Bay for six seasons before Jones signed with Oakland last year. He's back now with the Packers. 

Kelley L Cox/Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

During the three years from 2009-2011, James Jones had the second-worst drop rate (14.39 percent) in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus statistics. In 2012, the Green Bay Packers wide receiver’s hands became much better and he vastly improved as a player.

That season, he had zero drops and led the league in touchdown receptions, with 14, then and still a career high. In 2013, he set his career mark for receiving yards, with 817. And in 2014, after signing with the Oakland Raiders, he caught a career-best 73 passes.

It’s the steady improvement, commitment to his craft and, as he showed last year, continued ability to be a difference-maker into his 30s that likely led the Packers to sign Jones to a one-year contract last weekend to help fill the void left by No. 1 wideout Jordy Nelson, out for the season with a knee injury.

The Packers — and their fans — understand Jones will not and cannot replace Nelson, who over the past couple of years developed into one of the NFL’s elite receivers. They are happy to bring in a player that knows their system and can be productive and have a role in the offense. Nelson was a star; smart, sure-handed, always on the same page with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a dynamic athlete, he was one of the league’s premier deep threats.

And while the 31-year-old Jones, who spent his first seven seasons with the Packers after being drafted in the third round in 2007 and was highly admired by Rodgers during his time in Green Bay, is also smart, sure-handed, in tune with the quarterback and athletic, the one thing he is not is the deep threat the 30-year-old Nelson was.

From 2010, when both players emerged as major playmakers for the Packers in their Super Bowl-winning season, through 2014, Nelson tied for the third-most receptions of 25 or more yards in the league. With 59, he trailed only DeSean Jackson (66) and Calvin Johnson (62) and had the same number as Demaryius Thomas during that time, according to STATS, Inc. During the same span, Jones was tied for 32nd in catches of at least 25 yards, with 34, despite playing two more games than Nelson (78 to 76).

In 2011, Nelson’s 16 catches of 25 or more yards were tied for fourth-most. In 2013, his 19 big-play receptions led the NFL. Last year, he had 12, which tied for seventh. Jones has never had more than eight or ranked higher than 29th.

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While Nelson’s average reception was for 15.7 yards, eighth in the league, Jones’ was for 12.6, which was 67th over those five years. Nelson’s average yards at catch — a measure of how far downfield the receiver is when he makes the catch, disregarding yards gained after the catch — was 10.1. He was essentially good for a first down on every reception. Jones’ average yards at catch was 7.5, which was 81st in the league since 2010.

The numbers just reinforce what the Packers and their fans already know: You can’t replace a deep threat like Nelson. But Jones is a trusty veteran, a well-liked and much-needed receiver for this team that needs as many weapons as it can get to fulfill its Super Bowl aspirations.

Maybe Jeff Janis can be the Jordy-esque deep threat.

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