We all know that Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams have been fantastic weapons for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the red zone over the past few years. Nelson led the league with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2016, his first year back off an ACL tear, while Adams nearly matched his veteran teammate with 12 scores.
Their raw numbers dipped in 2017, due in large part to Rodgers’ absence with a broken collarbone, but they still found their way across the goal line. In fact, the two Packers were among the five best receivers in all of football last season when targeted in the end zone, as Pro Football Focus revealed today:
Paul Richardson was the most productive wide receiver in the NFL on end zone targets in 2017. pic.twitter.com/1cfwmPa4DE— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 9, 2018
Nelson had fewer opportunities all across the field in 2017, as his overall number of targets dropped from 152 the year before to 88. Still, he was great at finding soft spots in coverage with Rodgers throwing him the football last fall; depending on where you judge this 32-yard score against the Seahawks in week one, either four or five of Jordy’s six scores came on a ball he caught in the end zone. (Here’s the one that actually involved some YAC.)
Adams, meanwhile, has become one of Rodgers’ favorite weapons near the goal line and even maintained his level of productivity even when Rodgers was hurt and Brett Hundley came in as his replacement. The fourth-year receiver caught four of his five touchdowns from Rodgers in the end zone — one against the Bears in week 4, two against the Dallas Cowboys in week five, including the game-winner, and another in Rodgers’ return against the Panthers. With Hundley under center, he had two more end-zone scores: another against Chicago, this time on the road, plus the score that send the game against the Browns to overtime.
With Nelson released and now in Oakland, the Packers will need to find a way to duplicate his production near and beyond the goal line. Thankfully, they have just the player to do that in tight end Jimmy Graham. Every one of Graham’s ten touchdowns from a year ago came inside the red zone, with a whopping seven of them being inside the five-yard line. His 6-foot-6 frame makes him a perfect target for jump balls, and it’s not hard to imagine Rodgers loving a target like that.
Of course, Graham needs to prove that he can produce between the 20s as well. After all, the Packers still managed one of the best red zone offenses in the NFL a year ago, but it was getting inside the 20 that was the biggest challenge. The Packers were an impressive 4th in the league in red zone touchdown percentage (61.9%), but they tied for 22nd in red zone opportunities per game (2.6). Keeping the first number high while increasing the second will be the big challenge for Mike McCarthy and company this season. Thankfully, Adams’ return and Graham’s arrival should mean that Rodgers can maintain his success when the ball crosses the goal line between leaving his hand and hitting those of his receivers.