I think it’s likely that Jordy Nelson is no worse than the 4th best Green Bay Packers receiver ever, and he is almost certainly the best modern Packer receiver. Some might “stan” for Greg Jennings, but while Jennings did average a slightly higher yards per catch, Nelson was right there with him and caught a far higher percentage of passes. Some might make a case for the justifiably beloved Donald Driver, who had better longevity and a great story, but he lacked Nelson’s peak. Antonio Freeman should probably get a mention as the most dominant receiver of the Favre era, but his arc was similar to Nelson’s, and not quite as impressive.
It really is a shame that Nelson’s career was cut short by a knee injury given how productive he was until, and even shortly after, suffering said injury in 2015. It’s entirely possible that with a few additional years he would be a borderline Hall of Famer. That may sound crazy, and I believe that only those who were the best at their position for some time should be considered, but Nelson was. His transcendent 2011 saw him catch over 70% of his targets for 18.6 yards per catch and 15 touchdowns. In addition to some phenomenal counting stats, Nelson led the league in DVOA that season, meaning that he wasn’t just a target monster. On a per play basis, no one was better, and overall, no one was better. Nelson would finish as a top-10 DVOA performer five times from 2010 to 2016. Jennings only finished in the top 10 twice.
The real shame is that Nelson could and to some extent did age well. Even without the injury he would have slowed down, but he showed off the old-player skills you crave in a receiver, from his continued dominance in the slot to his incredible ability to run back shoulders with Aaron Rodgers, even when blanketed. His actual peak and likely productive longevity would have, if nothing else, given him a stat-nerd’s case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. As it stands he will likely settle for the still-prestigious Packer version and an interesting case of what-if. He will always be a bit underrated when discussed in the same breath as Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, but he was their equal, and occasionally their superior, for a substantial window.
Finally, Green Bay receivers of that era will always be penalized a bit for playing with a transcendent talent like Aaron Rodgers, but it’s worth noting that when Nelson was lost, it was Rodgers who declined significantly from an 8.65 ANY/A to a 6.10, and he has never fully recovered. If Rodgers made Nelson early, there is as strong a case that Nelson made Rodgers late.
The only Packer receivers that have been clearly better than Nelson are Don Hutson and James Lofton. Sterling Sharpe, who tragically had his career cut short after seven seasons, is the only other Packer to have a legitimate case versus Nelson. That is about as fine a career as you can have.