Jordy Nelson will have a longer and better career as an NFL wide receiver than James Jones. There – let’s just get that out of the way. I have nothing against James Jones, and his hard-luck personal story makes me want to root for him, but I just don’t think he will ever be more than a good NFL receiver. I believe Jordy Nelson, however, has the extras that could propel him to be a quasi-star in the NFL.
Back in early June, I decided I would tell the world why I feel this way. Before I could put fingers to keyboard, however, a host of articles about Jones and Nelson hit the internet. The Green Bay Press Gazette, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Packers.com, TotalPackers.com, bleacherreport.com and probably many more that I just don’t remember, all wrote on the topic.
Talk about overload – who needed yet another article on the subject? So I shelved the idea. This weekend, however, Alex Tallitsch of the Packers Lounge (now part of CheeseheadTV), published a collection of fan polls. One of them, of course, was “Jordy Nelson or James Jones?” Alex, a firm member of the “Jones is better” camp, was really surprised that Nelson was leading the poll result by a margin of 3:2.
So I decided to give this a shot anyway. If you’re tired of the debate, I apologize in advance, but perhaps I can present a good enough case for you Nelson non-believers.
Many have dubbed this the battle for the #3 receiver spot. Right off the bat, I have a problem with that. If you count JerMichael Finley, the spot Nelson and Jones are competing for is much more likely to be the 4th on the list of passing game targets. And for those of you assuming Donald Driver will be taking a step back due to his age and slight production drop-off the last few seasons, think again.
Driver had surgery on both knees in January and both he and the trainers say he is a “new man.” The last few seasons he has been running on damaged knees. Prepare for a Donald Driver resurgence.
So the point I am making is that this battle is really not that critical to the Packers, and that for at least this year, neither Nelson or Jones will be putting up big numbers. But who most has the potential to do so in the future? Jordy Nelson.
Since none of us can predict the future, lets take a look back at their pasts and do a little comparison.
Jordy Nelson: Kansas State (BIG-12): A former HS quarterback, that still holds a Kansas State Track Sprint Record, Nelson came to KSU as a safety and was moved to wide receiver as a sophomore. Over 31 college games, Nelson caught 206 passes for 2824 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was a first team All-America as a senior, second in the nation in catches (122) and yards (1606).
Scouting report: Shows good flexibility extending for the ball in a crowd and has those large, soft hands that lets him catch most of the throws outside his frame … Would not call him sudden, but does have competitive quickness in his routes… Big target who is productive on impact working over the middle … Shows the ability to screen the defender and has outstanding ball concentration, appearing very confident he can get to most throws in a crowd … While he lacks the strength to blow up defenders as a blocker, he will position to pester and stalk … Will not hesitate to sacrifice his body and lay out for the ball.
Better served playing in the slot than on the outside, as he has the frame to shield the ball from defenders and make the tough catch in a crowd, but does not have the timed speed to stretch the field.
James Jones: San Jose State (WAC): Also a HS quarterback and basketball player, Jones went to hometown San Jose State and was a part-time starter until his Senior Season. Over 44 college games, James caught 126 passes for 1496 yards and 12 touchdowns
Scouting report: Solidly built athlete with a lean, yet defined frame, showing good upper body muscle definition, long arms and large, soft hands … Lacks explosion off the snap, but does a good job of accelerating throughout his route … Runs with good balance and shows above average hand/eye coordination … Can make the tough catches in traffic and then run around defenders with the ball … Has a smooth, gliding running motion, but does not generate an explosive pull-away burst … Lacks great timed speed or a second gear to separate … Tends to look lackadaisical going for the ball at times … Needs to develop better shake moves to escape defenders at the line … Rounds his cuts and is has had ball concentration lapses, as he needs to be more conscious of securing the ball before running with it … Lacks a separation burst and needs to develop better moves to sell the route and surprise the defensive back … For his size, he seems too passive when it comes to blocking, lacking the ability (or desire) to sustain and finish his blocks …
Jordy Nelson: 40-time: 4.51, vertical: 31″, 20yard: 2.59, 10yard: 1.50, Broad jump: 10’03”, Shuttle: 4.35 Cone: 7.03
James Jones: 40-time: 4.54, vertical: 34″, 20yard: 2.65, 10yard: 1.54, Broad jump: 09’11”, Shuttle: 4.20 Cone: 7.06
Jordy Nelson: Over 29 games, Nelson caught 55 passes for 685 yards (12.5 yd avg.) and four touchdowns. He also had 36 kickoff returns for 843 yards and 17 punt returns for 90 yards.
James Jones: Over 42 games, James caught 99 passes for 1390 yards (14yd avg.) and 8 touchdowns
Looking at the above evidence, if I’m being honest, it’s closer than I expected. Jordy’s main advantage is in the College Career category. Playing against better competition in the big 12, Nelson had 6 10-catch games in his senior season. He was the go-to guy in the KSU offense and was not bothered by the pressure. His senior season almost equaled all of Jone’s college career.
Looking at the College highlights videos, I saw what I expected from Nelson, but was very surprised by Jones’ video. In that video he looks a lot more fluid than he ever has as a Packer, even showing moves after the catch. Not what I expected. Nelson shows much softer hands, with an excellent ability to catch the ball away from his body.
The draft scouting reports show both Nelson and Jones as lacking that burst to separate from defenders, but both able to make the tough catch in traffic.
The NFL combine numbers give Nelson a slight edge, but not anything to brag about. Neither were near the top of their WR group in most categories, with the only exception being Jones just cracking the top 10 in the cone drill.
As for their NFL numbers, it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions. Jones had the surprisingly productive rookie season when the Packers went 13-3, but hasn’t looked as good since, especially after his knee injury in the 2008 season. Watching Jones run after the catch last season, sometimes it seemed to me like he was carrying a medicine ball as he ran – he just seemed to be laboring. I specifically remember shouting “RUN” at Jones on several occasions last season.
Nelson, on the other hand, did a great job with picking up extra yards after the catch. My only criticism there would be that I think he has dropped a few balls because he was in too much of a hurry to run with the ball. If he can focus totally on the catch first, I think he has excellent after-catch ability. Nelson raised his average last year to 14 yds.per catch from 11 his rookie season. Hopefully a pattern that continues.
Jones’ route-running, while improved, is still not up to par with Nelson’s. Jordy is just much crisper with his routes, where Jones will tend to round off his cuts.
Another area where Nelson has a definite advantage is down field blocking. Nelson is an eager down field blocker, often seen coming totally across the field to deliver a block on a big play (I’m thinking of the Greg Jennings TD catch vs SF). Jones has not proven to be useful in this department at all.
Finally, Nelson’s contributions as a return man increases his edge over Jones. While punt returns are not his strength, at least he handles the ball securely and his kickoff return performance was better than average.
So where does all this leave me? Truthfully, not where I thought I’d be. I really expected to be be able to make a drop-dead case for Jordy Nelson as the far superior player of the two. While I still believe that Nelson will one day emerge as a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers (more reliable route running and comes back to the ball better), it’s no sure thing he’ll be that much better than Jones. More well rounded, for sure, but Jones has almost as good a chance at the equivalent NFL receiving career.
Damn. I hate when I can’t manipulate the facts to prove my point…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.