Traveling back to March 18, we addressed the addition of Jordy Nelson by the Oakland Raiders. Since, Oakland has added Martavis Bryant via a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To recap Nelson’s outlook, what was discussed in March largely holds true today.
Quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite target has been released, which was rumored to be in the works for months because of a high cap figure. Green Bay’s surprise release of Nelson, and his subsequent signing with Oakland, made axing Crabtree a reality.
Crabtree averaged a healthy nine looks per game in his first two seasons with the Raiders. He still managed nearly eight per contest in his 13 outings last season. Targets won’t be an issue for Nelson. He didn’t come to the Bay Area to stand around. Chemistry needs to be established, and there’s no doubt he will work closely with Carr during the offseason.
The biggest area of concern for Nelson is how much does he have left in the tank. Is there one more monster season left in there? We saw a totally different player when Aaron Rodgers went down in 2017. It is easy to blame Brett Hundley for the regression, but Nelson fell so far off the map that there really could be more to it. When wide receivers “lose it” in the NFL, most tend to precipitously regress. Separation through precise route running has always been Nelson’s hallmark, but if the feet don’t move like required, his tool chest immediately becomes barren. Due to this style of creating separation, timing and chemistry with his quarterback are everything.
Nelson is a risk-reward WR2 in both scoring systems. His days of 90-plus receptions and 14 or more scores are almost certainly behind him in his age-33 season. Look for his trademark big plays to remain a staple of Nelson’s game — since becoming a regular starter in 2011, he has a season long of at least 58 yards in each year. It would be more likely to see him post lower reception and yardage figures and high TD numbers than a purely dominant statistical output.
After working with the former Packer for a few months, Carr recently said he understands why Nelson and Rodgers had such strong chemistry.
“Jordy is very detailed,” Carr said. “He wants to do everything exactly how you want it done. I see why Aaron loved throwing him the ball. He knows if you’re comfortable, you’ll throw it to them.”
Nelson has as much to prove as any veteran. In 2016, Green Bay utilized him 19.6 percent of his snaps in the slot, a location the Raiders could make his primary residence in ’18. That season, Nelson was targeted 21 times (1st) in the red zone and finished with 14 receiving scores (1st), 12 of which came inside of the opponent’s 20.
This data illustrates even though he is known for his downfield prowess, Nelson is quite capable of modifying his game. Anyone who has watched even a few Packers games can attest to Nelson having a knack for exploiting coverage in the red zone and finding soft spots to get open. Savvy and route-running brilliance can make up for regression in the athletic department.
The most significant change since Nelson arrived in the Bay Area is the acquisition of Bryant. He has the speed to threaten down the field and, like Nelson, can be an asset in the red zone. Attitude concerns could be quelled now that he is in a new city, but Bryant comes with off-the-field issues. Update: Bryant could be facing an indefinite suspension, per media reports.
It appears as though Bryant will line up on the outside most of the time, opposite Amari Cooper. The Raiders under Jon Gruden have passed enough to create fantasy value for three receivers, so there’s hope Bryant will be more than the occasional splashy playmaker.
The offensive line saw an upgrade in the first round of the NFL draft with the selection of tackle Kolton Miller. He will compete for the starting spot on the right side, but if 35-year-old Donald Penn (foot) cannot return to form at left tackle, Miller may be asked to slide over to block Carr’s blindside. This offensive line’s interior remains one of — if not the — best in football. Strong play by the front five allows for more deep routes to develop and also generates explosive second-level plays with screens and inside designs.
Fantasy football outlook
There is much to like about both players. In fact, one man’s regression could become another man’s ascension. If Nelson is indeed on his last legs and cannot rebound, it makes Bryant that much stronger of a fantasy weapon.
This situation really could go either way for Nelson, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Obvious regression on the field would be noticed by reporters, and we haven’t seen anything come to light yet. Monitor this in training camp.
Given his work ethic, precision route-running skills, incentives, and an offensive system catered to his abilities, Nelson should approach low-end WR1 numbers in an optimal situation. Most likely, he is a sound No. 2 option for gamers at a bargain price. His current ADP is 8:01 in PPR formats, and he should go slightly sooner in standard scoring.
Bryant isn’t as valuable in the short term, but as mentioned, he could be thrust into a prime role. Drafters have slotted him in the early 11th round, on average, which is a fair time to take a shot on his upside. Be aware, though, especially if Nelson is on track, Bryant’s inconsistency could be an issue.