Records fall. That’s life in the NFL.
But we won’t let Jordy Nelson’s impressive franchise record fall quietly.
Davante Adams is, without a doubt, the best wide receiver the Green Bay Packers have employed since Sterling Sharpe. The five best seasons in Packers history, in terms of receptions, are owned by those two men.
Adams may be even more dominant than Sharpe, but that debate is for another day.
A coveted feather in Adams’ hat in this inevitable, forthcoming debate would be owning the record he’s on the verge of breaking. We’ll dive into that record below, currently owned by Jordy Nelson, but it should be noted that Adams already owns an absurd record.
No receiver in NFL history has more games with 10+ receptions, 100+ yards and 2+ touchdowns than Davante Adams’ eight such games. Read that again. Let it marinate.
We’re dealing with an all-time great still in his prime here, folks.
The Packers have had three bonafide Pro Football Hall of Fame caliber wide receivers (or ends) in their century-long history. Don Hutson (1930s/40s), James Lofton (1970s/80s) and the aforementioned Sharpe (1980s/90s). Hutson and Lofton are in The Hall, while Sharpe should be.
The other name that comes to mind is Billy Howton of the 1950s; he’s likely the next closest wide receiver to a gold jacket other than Davante Adams. And it does seem like Adams has finally found himself on a Hall of Fame trajectory at a position that currently has a log jam of potentially Hall of Fame worthy names.
But just because the gap between Sharpe and Adams was over 20 years apart, doesn’t mean the Packers didn’t have impressive receivers in those years.
Lets start with Robert Brooks. The elite deep threat had a short-lived prime cut short by injuries. Then came Antonio Freeman. He developed into Brett Favre’s favorite target and caught more touchdowns from the quarterback than anyone.
Next up in the lineage was Donald Driver, a hard working seventh round draft pick that became the Packers’ all-time leading receiver. Driver, famously, is the only receiver to catch 20+ touchdowns from both Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
After Driver, and a brief stint from Greg Jennings, came the man we’re here to celebrate today:
Nelson’s time as the Packers best pass catcher, of course, eventually gave way to Adams. He was the younger player who has since become the team’s, and league’s, penultimate receiver.
But Nelson is somewhat lost in the discussions of best all-time receivers in Green Bay, isn’t he?
At no fault of his own, mind you. It has always been Hutson, for a time it was Lofton and then it was Sharpe. Now it’s Adams. Driver set some records and was a fan-favorite, but he was never near the discussion of being the best in the game.
Nelson never was either and that’s kind of the point of this piece.
Only Nelson, Adams and Sharpe have posted multiple 90+ reception seasons for the Packers. Now that’s a select group.
Still, Adams has–in a way–surpassed much of what Nelson accomplished in Green Bay. There wasn’t much time to fully digest how dominant Nelson was for the Packers. There was no time to sit back and miss him because Adams seamlessly caught fire and took the league by storm at the same position, with the same quarterback.
Nelson undoubtedly was Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target of his career… until Adams took that crown. Nelson caught an incredible 69 touchdowns while in Green Bay (72 in his career).
The man Rodgers referred to as “White Lightning” was second only to Don Hutson, the Babe Ruth of Football, in touchdowns caught as a Packer. What an honor! After 100 years of Packer football Hutson and Nelson were atop the list in receiving touchdowns.
Earlier this year Adams came and took that distinguished mark from Nelson (73 career touchdown receptions). It is now Hutson, Adams and then Nelson in that regard.
And now Adams is zeroing in on another mark that Nelson currently holds.
Nelson’s Most Impressive Record
Most receiving yards in a single-season in Packers history?
That record is owned by Jordy Nelson (1,519 yards, 16 games, 2014). That is, heading into Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season.
Many people might not even know that Nelson owns this record. He just never quite got the attention he deserved.
Adams, who does get a plethora of deserved attention, has 1,498 receiving yards in 15 games this season. He is planning on playing in the team’s finale in Detroit. He needs just 22 yards to set the all-time franchise mark. That should take all of one or two drives from the Packers’ offense. Fortunately, for parity sake, Adams will likely break the record in his 16th game (not 17th).
That makes it at least a little more fair of a record-breaking season.
Although maybe a record set in 2014 being broken is a good thing for the Packers. Perhaps Adams breaking this record will end the curse that the 2014 squad brought upon the franchise. The team, infamously, lost in the NFC Conference Championship Game in Seattle. A series of debacles led to one of the worst loses in team history.
Perhaps it’s time for all records from that season to fall, as the team has lost four straight Conference Championship Games since that fateful season, including that loss.
Records are meant to be broken, as are curses.
As Jordy Nelson loses this all-time record, we at packershistory.com figured we should highlight his fantastic career. And we’ll compare his production to the incredibly talented guy who is set to pass him in single-season yardage on Sunday.
Look At The Numbers
This year we have watched Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers put up historic numbers, just like they have over the last four years. Their chemistry is unbelievable; their subtle connection is amazing. They’re so in-sync. Rodgers is playing some of the best football of his career as he eyes back-to-back MVPs. Adams is running routes as good as anyone in the history of football, and has for years, but look at the numbers.
Jordy Nelson’s best season stacked up against Davante Adams’ stats from this year is fun to behold.
Jordy Nelson, 2014: 16 Games, 1519 Receiving Yards, 13 TDs, 98 Receptions
Davante Adams, 2021: 15 Games, 1498 Receiving Yards, 11 TDs, 117 Receptions
Which begs the question, just how great was Jordy Nelson?
We watched Nelson’s entire career and we’ve watched all of Adams’ career so far. We never thought to put Nelson in that rarified air that we hold Adams in, but it’s closer than you would think.
Yes, Adams and Nelson are very different receivers with very different responsibilities, but still. It’s worth noting the similarities in each of their best seasons.
Now, lets assume Adams plays in the first half against Detroit. His stat line for the year may end up closer to 16 games, 1550 receiving yards, 12 TDs and 123 receptions. Even if he breaks the record, Adams’ 2021 season will still end up more than comparable to Nelson’s 2014.
It should be noted that both Nelson (2014) and Adams (2021) have reached these incredible heights without a single fumble in their respective, historic seasons.
I mean, what’s incredible is Nelson and Rodgers nearly did what Adams and Rodgers have done (if you compare each of their best three seasons against each other). Unreal to think that could be even close to true.
However when we watched Nelson catch balls from Rodgers I don’t think many of us thought we were watching something utterly historic. It didn’t feel like they were putting up such incredible numbers. It never felt like Nelson was close to an all-time great.
When watching Adams play with Rodgers, it just feels historic. It feels so special and you know you’re watching a connection that we, as fans, haven’t seen before. Adams feels like watching an all-time great.
This makes Nelson’s numbers, and Rodgers and Nelson’s feats, seem all the more impressive — if only when we look back.
Now we’re not saying that we and others didn’t appreciate Jordy Nelson in his time, we certainly did. Rodgers throwing the back shoulder fade to Nelson remains one of the best plays in franchise history. It was automatic. Nelson was an elite deep threat in his prime as well. We remember him running post routes, catching the ball in stride and out-running every defensive back on the field en route to a 70 yard touchdown with regularity.
Nelson’s toe-tapping proficiency on sideline and end zone catches was as good as we’ve ever seen in Green and Gold, too.
It’s just, sometimes it takes seeing someone who is much better (Adams) put up similar numbers to realize just how good the other guy was. The other guy here is Nelson, obviously.
When Nelson put up his Packers record 1,519 receiving yards in 2014, he didn’t get much national attention. Nelson was not named First Team All-Pro. He was never even named Second Team All-Pro. He was just a Pro Bowler once, somehow (2014).
Nelson isn’t Adams, but for a time, he was pretty damn great in his own right.
2014 Wasn’t His Only Big Season…
The 2016 season was certainly a memorable season for Jordy Nelson as well. He put up 97 receptions and led the league in touchdown catches (14 TDs). However, that wasn’t even Nelson’s best season in that major category. In 2011, in Aaron Rodgers’ first MVP season, Nelson caught a whopping 15 touchdowns. And remember, it’s his 2014 season that Adams is about to surpass in receiving yards.
We haven’t even mentioned 2013, a year in which Nelson put up 1,314 yards on 85 receptions.
That’s a lot of success spread out numerous season. So it’s clear that Nelson didn’t just have a high peak, but a sustained level of production.
Check out the Following Stats:
We’d sure as hell call them eye-opening, to say the least.
Three times Nelson hit the 13+ TD mark in a single-season (Adams has done so twice).
Four times Nelson has hit the 1,200+ receiving yard mark in his Packers career (Adams has done so three times so far in his career including 2021).
In three separate seasons Nelson put up more than 60 first down receptions (Adams has also done so three times including 2021).
Both receivers have led the NFL in touchdown catches once. Although Adams’ 18 touchdowns in 2020 tied Sterling Sharpe’s mark in 1994 for most in team history.
What about big games?
Career Games with 2+ TD Receptions:
Davante Adams: 16 Games
Jordy Nelson: 15 Games
Career Games with 150+ Receiving Yards:
Davante Adams: 7 Games
Jordy Nelson: 6 Games
We bet that it’s closer than most would have thought.
Stunning how well Nelson’s career stacks up, at first glance, to Adams’ potential Hall of Fame career, huh? This epiphany didn’t come to us until we thought about how productive Nelson must’ve been for Adams to just now be passing him in single-season receiving yards.
It’s wild that it’s just finally happening now!
Where Adams separates himself from Nelson, and most receivers, is in total receptions. Well receptions, jump off the snap, route-running, confidence, sheer athletic ability… we could go on and on. No one has been better at getting open in Green Bay than Adams, at least since Hutson.
Three times Adams has hit the 110 reception mark (Nelson never hit the 100 reception mark). Only one receiver in Packers history besides Adams has hit the 110 reception plateau and that was Sterling Sharpe in 1993 when he caught 112 balls. That also happened to be the second consecutive year in which he set the all-time NFL record for receptions in a single-season. But he’s not in The Hall. Yeah.
For good measure, Billy Howton led the NFL in receiving touchdowns once and Sterling Sharpe did so twice. Don Hutson led the league nine times. Nine. Good lord, there isn’t enough praise in the world for what Hutson accomplished in his time.
Yes, other Packers receivers have put up great individual seasons and led the league in certain categories, but none are in the conversation with the all-time greats like Nelson should be. And Nelson really should be. No, he’s not to the level of a Sharpe, Adams or Lofton (who are behind Hutson), but he’s right beneath them, perhaps leading the pack that includes Antonio Freeman and Donald Driver — which is one hell of an honor.
Is ranking wide receivers particularly necessary? No, but it’s fun and we enjoy it. If you don’t like it, I don’t know, go for a walk.
Now, you may have noticed that 2014 and 2016 were two of Nelson’s best seasons as a professional football player. What about 2015? Well, that’s where the story of Nelson’s career gets far more interesting.
Torn ACL and His Journey Back
In the 2015 preseason Jordy Nelson tore his ACL. It was absolutely tragic. It seemed like the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes died with his prognosis. Maybe it wasn’t far from the truth.
He missed the entire season and the Packers couldn’t get over the hump without him. The Packers’ leading receivers in 2015 were James Jones (890 yards), Randall Cobb (829 yards) and Richard Rodgers (510 yards). Davante Adams caught just one touchdown on the year, his second season in the league. He wouldn’t break out until the following season when Nelson was back.
Adams’ breakout in 2016 (12 touchdowns) was partially due to defenses keying on a rejuvenated Nelson, it has to be mentioned.
The 2015 season ended with Green Bay losing in the divisional round of the playoffs with Rodgers throwing to Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis. They were his top two receivers for much of the game due to injuries. Which is an insane sentence to type.
And the Packers still nearly won (after losing in overtime). Imagine if they had Jordy Nelson in the middle of his prime for that postseason run?
But Nelson fought back from his 2015 injury and, as previously mentioned, led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2016. The amazing feat earned him AP Comeback Player of the Year honors. Remember, 2016 was the season in which the Packers ‘ran the table.’ He was a huge part of that run.
Nelson was the first Packer to ever win the award.
Nelson did join Robert Brooks (wide receiver, 1997) as the only other Packer to win the PFWA Comeback Player of the Year Award, too. Nelson was awarded both honors. And how couldn’t he have been?
That was the year that Nelson somewhat transitioned from primarily a deep threat into more of a possession receiver. It showed that Nelson had dimension to his game and that he was the real deal as the Packers’ top threat.
Nelson’s determination, dedication and skill was put to the test and he responded as admirably as any Packers player has coming back from injury. It was one of the defining moments of his career. Brooks came back and was an okay player for a couple years; Nelson came back and continued to be a star.
But if we’re talking about defining moments…
Super Bowl Hero Turned Rising Star
No article that touches on the career of Jordy Nelson can skip over what he did as a third year player in Super Bowl XLV. Up to this point, Nelson hadn’t broken out yet. He had recorded just two touchdowns in each of his first three seasons.
We all know that Nelson went on to catch the first touchdown of Super Bowl XLV from Aaron Rodgers. A beautiful 29-yard contested catch on the right sideline. If he drops that, who knows how that game goes.
In all, he led the game in receiving yards (140) and receptions (9). Under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium, after dropping a few balls earlier in the game, a star was born.
Everyone could see Nelson’s mental toughness from that moment on.
The next year, when Rodgers won his first MVP, Nelson was his favorite target. And this was a team that featured Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley. You remember the famous Sports Illustrated cover.
With all of those weapons, Nelson still caught 15 touchdowns.
From that season until he left Green bay, the NFL knew that Rodgers and Nelson were pretty much unstoppable. Everyone knew that they’d find each other for big plays year-in and year-out. The same can be said about Rodgers and Adams right now. All defenses know that Rodgers is looking to get Adams the ball, yet no one can stop them.
Perhaps the connection between Rodgers and Nelson was the blueprint for Rodgers and Adams. They’re in the middle of their prime as a QB-WR duo, just as Nelson and his quarterback were from 2011-2016.
Jordy Nelson didn’t finish his career in Green Bay, but that’s okay. Most Packer greats don’t, honestly. If Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Brett Favre and Reggie White can finish their careers elsewhere, anyone can. Nelson finished his career in Oakland, but he’ll be remembered, forever, as a Green Bay Packer and Rodgers’ first truly dominant wide receiver. Adams will remain Rodgers’ second truly dominant receiver. In that way, the two receivers will always be linked.
And this is no slight to Donald Driver or Greg Jennings, it’s just that Aaron Rodgers’ partnership with Jordy Nelson was untouched. The best we’d seen in decades in Green Bay. That is, until Davante Adams became the superstar he is today.
What we’re trying to say is that there’s no shame in second place. If Adams is an all-time great, then Nelson was simply better than he was given credit for.
Nelson is second on the list in all-time touchdowns from Rodgers and is about to be in second place in single-season receiving yards in Packers history, too. Adams is to blame. But again, it’s okay. The Packers are a continuum and that means the next guy might be better. However it takes nothing away from what the player accomplished in his time.
With that said, we offer a sincere thank you for all of the memories, Jordy. We won’t soon forget them.
Perhaps we didn’t truly internalize how dominant of a receiver you were until we saw Adams, who is unbelievable, put up similar numbers. That’s on us.
Having the second most receiving yards in a single-season in Packers history is still pretty damn special. And Davante Adams breaking that record as Green Bay goes on to win a Super Bowl? There are few things more special than that. Let’s hope that’s the case.
Rodgers and Nelson won a Super Bowl, now it’s time for Rodgers and Adams to get one.
Go Pack Go!