Next-Gen Stats: Is Jordy Nelson the Packers' most valuable player?


Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:

» Did the Vikings get robbed in the Sam Bradford trade?

» Who are the league's top 10 backup quarterbacks?

» How much does Jordy Nelson mean to the Packers?

But first, a look at how the Seattle Seahawks continue to get the most out of undrafted free agents ...

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NEXT-GEN STATS: Is Jordy Nelson the Packers' most valuable player?

Make no mistake about it. Aaron Rodgers is the best player on the team and arguably the top player in the NFL, but Nelson is the most valuable player on the Green Bay Packers.

Now, I know that statement will be met with some quizzical looks and raised eyebrows, based on Rodgers' stature in the league. And honestly, I'm engaging in a bit of hyperbole -- after all, Green Bay would almost certainly be dead in the water without Rodgers -- to underline what the numbers suggest: The veteran receiver is an indispensable Jenga piece to the Packers' championship puzzle.

With Nelson lost to a torn ACL in 2015, the Packers ranked 25th in passing offense and 23rd in overall offense en route to a second-place finish in the NFC North and an exit in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. With Nelson on the field, the Packers are one of the most explosive offenses in football, a juggernaut that few defensive coordinators are able to solve.

Since 2011, the Packers have averaged 29.5 points, 390.6 yards and 276 pass yards with Nelson in the lineup, compared to 24.8 points, 336.5 yards and 222.2 pass yards without the Pro Bowl receiver on the field. That's a significant drop-off in production -- but I believe Nelson's impact on his teammates that really illustrates his value to the team.

Rodgers, for instance, is definitely not the same player with No. 87 on the sideline in sweats. I know this goes against the narrative that the superstar quarterback elevates the play of his receivers, but the numbers suggest Nelson makes the two-time league MVP better. Since 2011, with Nelson on the field, Rodgers has completed 67.1 percent of his passes, registered a 113.0 passer rating and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, compared to a 61.4 percent completion rate, a 95.4 passer rating and a 6.8 yards-per-attempt average without Nelson. Most importantly, Rodgers' winning percentage is a robust .750 (39-13) with Nelson in the lineup, compared to his .700 winning percentage (14-6) without his WR1 over that span.

Part of what makes Nelson such a great asset in the Packers' system is his combination of speed, quickness and running skills on the perimeter. As a former punt returner and high-school track standout, Nelson is an explosive playmaker with the ball in his hands. He is capable of turning short passes into big gains, particularly on slants from the outside.

Nelson has also developed into one of the best deep-ball threats in the league, exhibiting exceptional balance, body control and patience as a route runner on the perimeter. He excels on double moves, and the Packers' clever play-action passing game features a number of misdirection vertical routes that showcase Nelson's talents as a route runner.

Nelson's dominance is reflected in the numbers that he posted during his last two seasons on the field. During that span (2013-14), Nelson ranked fifth in the NFL in receptions (183), third in receiving yards (2,833), tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns (21) and tied for second in receptions of 25-plus yards (31). That kind of production commands attention from the defense and alleviates some of the pressure on other receivers to make plays on the perimeter.

That was clearly evident in the way Packers receiver Randall Cobb struggled a bit without Nelson on the field last season. The former Pro Bowler not only had trouble shining as the Packers' WR1, but his production dipped even as he received more targets from Rodgers. Cobb finished 2015 with only 79 receptions, 829 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 129 targets after tallying 91 catches, 1,287 yards, and 12 touchdowns on 127 targets the previous season. Sure, Cobb suffered through a spate of injuries during the season, but he clearly missed his counterpart on the opposite side of the field. His diminished impact is a testament to the attention Nelson commands as the Packers' clear WR1.

The loss of Nelson on the field also affected the Packers' running game, specifically running back Eddie Lacy. In his first two seasons (2013-14), with Nelson operating on the perimeter, Lacy averaged 1,159 yards, 10 touchdowns and 4.4 yards per carry. Last season, the hefty running back saw his production plummet; he finished the year with only 758 rushing yards and three scores while averaging only 4.1 yards per carry. The fourth-year pro certainly didn't help himself by playing well above his listed weight (5-foot-11, 234 pounds), but the extra defenders he saw in the box last season clogged up most of the lanes between the tackles. Without a viable deep-ball threat on the outside, teams could stack eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage to contain Lacy.

After watching the Packers' offense fall off the cliff without Nelson on the field, it will interesting to see if the unit re-emerges as a juggernaut with its MVP back in action.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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