Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio examines the 2017 season of new Oakland Raiders WR Jordy Nelson and believes Jon Gruden has a point.
Jon Gruden told the media during the first week of training camp that Jordy Nelson is still fast and one of the fastest players on the team. Most will think that’s showbiz talk for the media about a player the Raiders acquired off Green Bay’s scrap heap.
There’s a contingent of sports writers who say Nelson lost a step. Whether it’s based on watching television, examining yards per catch, yards per target, yards after the catch, or even M.P.H. as a ballcarrier, the data points to Nelson losing his athletic ability and falling off a cliff as a viable starter.
However, you can pose a valid argument against the data because there’s enough on-field, cause-and-effect context that illustrates that Nelson wasn’t slower or less productive in the intermediate and deep game because he lost a step; he lost a starting quarterback and a quality offensive line.
When the Packers featured Nelson as the first read, it was often in short-yardage situations, in the slot, and against zone coverage. The offense didn’t do this because he’s slower. Nelson is adept at reading coverage and finding quick openings. He’s also the biggest target of the three receivers and it makes him a friendly option for an inexperienced quarterback.
Brett Hundley struggled last year. When the offensive line didn’t give him enough time, he compounded the issue by leaving the pocket early, leaving a route too early, and lacking Aaron Rodgers’ otherworldly off-script skills to deliver a pinpoint target from unconventional platforms.
When the Packers targeted Nelson behind a 15-yard range of the line of scrimmage, he earned appropriate separation for the routes. While likely Nelson has gotten a little slower as he’s aged, his speed is still good enough to force players like Darius Slay, Marlon Humphrey, and Tre Waynes to turn and run — three corners in their athletic primes.
I’m excited to see how the Raiders will use Nelson because as much as everyone expects Amari Cooper to lead Oakland’s passing attack, I wouldn’t be shocked if Nelson is far more productive than anticipated.
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