“I know there's a lot of juice left in [No.] 87. I'd like to fill that up this week.”
As much as I’d like to plug a Sterling Archer meme after that quote, Aaron Rodgers has a point: Jordy Nelson has a lot of play-making left. And also a lot to prove.
Before Rodgers went down in week six, Jordy Nelson had amassed six touchdowns as the chemistry between the two long-time teammates looked as good as ever. Even though Nelson missed week two’s game at Atlanta, he was proving that the big play ability was still there. Nelson almost disappeared entirely without Rodgers under center, though.
In games where Rodgers played (or at least played briefly), Nelson averaged 7.6 targets per game. With Brett Hundley under center, that number dipped to 6 targets per game. That resulted in him catching no more than five passes in any game from weeks seven through 14 while having six or more catches three times in his first five games . He also hasn’t found the end zone with Hundley under center.
Expect Rodgers to get Nelson back into the swing of things and even consider putting Nelson back into your fantasy football lineups for the playoffs. Aaron hasn’t had any in-game reps since his injury, but he’ll look to Nelson as his security blanket if he wants to get into an early rhythm.
On the other side, Davante Adams has flourished as Hundley’s go-to receiver. His targets increased ever so slightly from 8 to 8.8 per game and he looked like the clear #1 even as the Packers run game started to gain traction. Davante isn’t as safe in fantasy prospects as he was with Hundley, since Rodgers will likely spread the ball around more. But as Rodgers has stated this past week, Adams about to get PAID.
I don’t expect much out of Randall Cobb with Rodgers back, however. His production should remain relatively the same. According to Next Gen Stats, Cobb is tied for second in the league in average separation, but that hasn’t translated to big plays. As APC’s Paul Noonan points out, part of that high separation average is because he’s covered by safeties and linebackers a lot. That should sound like a huge advantage, but Cobb has been on a downward trajectory since he peaked in 2014.
Not to be overlooked in how the receivers fare this weekend are the defenders covering them. The Carolina Panthers are a solid defense, but this is a defense that primarily goes as linebacker Luke Kuechly goes, rather than being known for their secondary. Still, Carolina is ranked 7th in pass defense DVOA.
Looking closer at the rankings, though, you’ll find that against WR1s, WR2s and Other WR, they’re ranked 19th, 15th, and 17th, respectively. That boost in passing defense DVOA comes from their #2 ranking against TE’s, which, that’s right, is handled expertly by Luke Kuechly. So if any pass catchers struggle in Week 15, my money’s on the Packers TE group.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though it feels like it’s been an eternity since we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers grace a football field, the receivers have still had all of training camp and a month and a half of regular season football with Aaron. Jordy and Davante are the best WR tandem in football if Rodgers is throwing them the ball.
And with a excellent run game in tow, this offense could be ready to explode.