ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter reported today that former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a salary cap casualty, has scheduled visits with three teams in his upcoming free agent tour: the Oakland Raiders, the Seattle Seahawks, and the New Orleans Saints.
The move makes sense for a couple of reasons, many of which were spelled out earlier by CSC contributor Monica Charlton. The Saints desperately need a proven quantity at slot receiver after Willie Snead fell off a cliff last year, and given his visibly-declining speed that looks like a great home for Nelson.
Nelson’s decline last year was due in part to his aging athleticism and the environment around him. Green Bay runs an offense heavy in isolated routes which pit receivers one-on-one versus corners in man coverage. Nelson struggled to separate against them in that situation, and with Brett Hundley struggling to pass the ball it just compounded into an awful stat line: 53 of 88 targets caught (60.2-percent, a career low) for 482 yards (9.1-yards per catch, another rock bottom-rate) and six touchdowns (which would have led the Saints in receiving touchdowns last year).
Wait, what? Yeah, that’s true - Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas tied the Black and Gold lead with five scores through the air, which is emblematic of the team’s issues in the red zone. Nelson excelled inside the 10-yard line last year (and throughout his career), converting eight targets into five of his six touchdowns. He’s also solid on critical third downs, converting 12 of 26 last year (46.1-percent, the NFL average being closer to 40-percent). The guy led the NFL in touchdowns in his last full year with Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, scoring 14 (fourteen!) times in 2016.
So in an offense with a focus on complimentary route concepts and sense of timing, Nelson could excel. The Saints could protect him from faster cover corners with a larger chunk of his routes coming from the slot, something he did not get to enjoy with Randall Cobb seeing returning from injury in 2017. When Cobb missed a few games in 2016, Nelson took advantage of the vacancy in the slot to lead the NFL in yards-per-route-run, a cool Pro Football Focus metric that measures efficiency relative to opportunity.
It’s worth noting that Nelson is the latest in a string of players released by their previous team to gain interest from the Saints: Kurt Coleman, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It could just be circumstantial, but this trend suggests the Saints are angling for some compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft - players released from their contracts don’t count against that formula, while true free agents do. If the price is right (and if he gets out of Oakland and Seattle first), Nelson could quickly make himself at home in New Orleans.