From 2011-2016, leaving out the 2015 season he missed with a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson finished with the following rankings among fantasy wide receivers: WR2 (2011), WR28 (2012-12 games), WR12 (2013), WR3 (2014) and WR2 (2016).
But things fell off a cliff last season, due in part by Aaron Rodgers missing all or most of 10 games. Nelson looked like a shell of himself, and finished with 53 receptions (on 88 targets) for 482 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games.
A contract restructuring was certain if Nelson was going to return to the Packers, but once he declined what would have reportedly been a huge pay cut they released him. A line of free agent visits came, and Nelson got a two-year deal from the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders cut Michael Crabtree in concert with signing Nelson, so the starting spot opposite Amari Cooper is open. But can Nelson step into it, and regain anything close his status as a WR1 for fantasy owners?
First, let’s look at the role Crabtree is leaving behind. He had 58 catches (on 101 targets) for 618 yards and eight touchdowns over 14 games for the Raiders last year. He had at least eight touchdown catches in all three of his seasons in Oakland (25 total), while averaging 8.5 targets per game.
Over his three best seasons in Green Bay (2013-2014, 2016) Nelson averaged close to nine targets per game.
Nelson has a lot to prove after a season where it looked like he was done at 32 years old. It’s worth noting Rodgers’ absence in favor of Brett Hundley didn’t really hurt Davante Adams last year.
If his downfield speed is gone, never to return, Nelson can make up for it by being a red zone weapon and a reliable target for Derek Carr. But relying on him as much more than a WR3 or WR4 in fantasy is asking for disappointment, and even that stands to be touchdown-dependent.
Jordy Nelson 2018 Projection: 60 receptions, 635 yards, 7 TDs