After being released by the Packers just two days ago, soon-to-be 33-year-old Jordy Nelson has found himself a new team. On Thursday afternoon, Nelson signed a two-year deal worth $15 million with $13 million of it guaranteed. In a move that coincided with the Nelson signing, the Raiders released Michael Crabtree.
It’s somewhat puzzling as to why the Raiders would make such a move, as the release of Crabtree cleared them roughly the same amount of money they just paid Nelson over the next two years. The release of Crabtree didn’t cost the Raiders anything against the cap, and while we don’t want to speculate, it’s difficult to think that his release was for reasons on the field. Over the last three years, there were just five wide receivers who scored more touchdowns than him.
But insert Nelson into the role that the Raiders had for Crabtree, which was the primary target in the red zone. It’s not a far cry from what Nelson was with the Packers, as he scored 63 touchdowns over the last six seasons he played with the Packers (excluding 2015 where he missed the whole season). The part that the numbers don’t show, however, is the chemistry that he had developed with Aaron Rodgers. If you were to go back and watch all of those 63 touchdowns, more than half of them probably would’ve been a timing back shoulder throw. These things don’t happen overnight with a quarterback/wide receiver combo.
It’s not just the chemistry that Nelson will miss, either, as every wide receiver who’s left Rodgers and the Packers goes on to see their numbers decline. Between Greg Jennings and James Jones, those two made a lot of money based on the touchdowns that came from Rodgers. Unfortunately, Derek Carr isn’t in the same class as Rodgers. It’s not to say he’s not a capable quarterback, but it’s going to have a big effect on Nelson’s efficiency.
Another thing that needs to be factored in is the fact that the Raiders have an entirely new coaching staff under Jon Gruden, a coach who notoriously wants to run the ball. On the same day the Raiders acquired Nelson, they went out and signed veteran running back Doug Martin, who will now play alongside Marshawn Lynch. In fantasy football, the last thing you want is uncertainty, and there’s a whole lot of it with the Raiders offense. On top of that, Amari Cooper is the alpha-dog in the offense who will see the majority of targets.
After all that, we still have to worry about Nelson from a health standpoint. He’s going to be 33 years old in May and is coming off easily his worst season in the NFL. While some have tied his decline to Aaron Rodgers going down, why didn’t Davante Adams suffer the same demise? Going back to look at Nelson’s performance with Rodgers in 2016, he started to become a different type of receiver. Instead of posting the 15-plus yards per reception that he had in his entire career as a starter, he posted just 13.0 yards per reception in what was more of a possession-type receiver. Some thought that number was tied to him coming back from his ACL surgery, but his yards per reception declined even more so as the year went on. Yes, yards per reception isn’t an indicator of future success, but it’s an indication as to the type of wide receiver a player is and how his team uses him. Nelson saw that number dip again in 2017, all the way down to just 9.1 yards per reception.
If you don’t think Nelson has started his decline, it’s nostalgia talking. He was a different player last year, one who saw his age catch up with him. The good part is that the Raiders don’t need him to be 2012 Jordy Nelson, they need him to be the No. 2 receiver to Cooper. Unfortunately, Crabtree is likely a better wide receiver at this point in their respective careers, so expecting a resurgence from Nelson isn’t the most likely of outcomes. When drafting in the later rounds of your fantasy draft, do yourself and draft someone with upside instead of taking a shot on Nelson. You’ll thank me later.
Miss any of the other big-name free agent signings? We’ve got you covered with the links below.
Allen Robinson to the Bears
Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs
Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
Case Keenum to the Broncos
Trey Burton to the Bears
Jimmy Graham to the Packers
Dion Lewis to the Titans
Carlos Hyde to the Browns
Jerick McKinnon to the 49ers