In this battle of TFA Fantasy Throwdown series, Kevin Steele and I (Jen Smith) debate wide receivers, Jordy Nelson and Mike Evans. Both are currently being drafted in the 2nd round with Jordy going slightly earlier than Evans. (because he’s better and I’m going to win haha) Which side are you on? Let us convince you and then tweet us with the hashtag #TFAthrowdown with your pick!
Jen Smith (@FF_female920)
Let’s just start here because this is far and away the largest argument for drafting Jordy Nelson lower in 2016 than the past several years. Nelson missed the entirety of the 2015 season after suffering a non-contact, torn ACL (knee) in Week 2 of preseason. Since that time, news confirmed his successful progression through rehab. Recently however, reports surfaced that Nelson remained on the PUP/Inactive list to start camp because of tendinitis in his OTHER knee. This sort of ailment is pretty common with injuries like Jordy’s and most likely is due to him overcompensating as he rehabbed his torn ACL. Green Bay activated Nelson from the PUP list on August 17th and he participated in individual drills this week with no reported setbacks. All reports still confirm he will be playing week 1.
Though a torn ACL is one of the more serious injuries that an athlete can experience, advances in surgery and rehabilitation allowed star athletes like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and Rob Gronkowski to bounce back (and perform at a high level) after this devastating injury. The timetable for recovery varies per athlete, but averages between 52-54 weeks so Nelson is right on schedule. This isn’t to say this means all will go to to plan since we’ve already seen the complications that can develop while recovering from an ACL tear. What we can say is that athletes come back from this injury to perform at a high level (some “superhuman” ones as well, e.g. Adrian Peterson in 2012) consistently. Jordy is no exception.
Practice Makes Perfect
The most helpful thing for Jordy and his recovery is happening right now: returning to practice and possibly exhibition. Green Bay has not ruled him out for preseason, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this occurs. After ACL surgery, the muscles in the knee must “re-learn” the tasks that used to come naturally to these athletes and so the more practice and game situations that Jordy participates in, the more likely he is to return to form quicker. For those that remember, Adrian Peterson’s monster year in 2012 after ACL surgery began with a slow start, as he (and his knee) relearned how to make cuts, anticipate movements and make “football moves” necessary for success. Moral of the story? Even if Nelson doesn’t immediately begin performing at previous levels, it does not mean he won’t eventually.
Jordy is 31 years young and coming off a major injury. I get it. However, the Packers most likely are also being cautious with their #1 wideout. Coaches praise Nelson’s determination and WR coach Luke Getsy stated, “He’s a guy that sees a barrier and knocks it down. Anybody would be a fool to say they wouldn’t expect this guy to come back and be who everyone expects him to be”. So, are you a fool? To be clear, Getsy said it. Not me. Nelson missed only 4 games in 5 seasons before the injury, so though it makes sense to be concerned, his ADP in the second round incorporates that risk.
If past performance dictates present performance, Jordy represents a major value at his current 2nd round ADP. In 2014, Nelson finished as the #2 fantasy WR with a stat line of 98-1519-13 and a 15.5 yard average per catch. His catch percentage of 67% (per ProFootballFocus.com) should impress you and he saw a whopping 30% of both overall target share and red zone targets. In 2013, Nelson finished as #11 fantasy WR with 1314 yards and 8 TDs, and a catch percentage of 71. Even with missing 4 games in 2012, Jordy ended as the #30 fantasy WR. So, he’s efficient, talented, on a powerful offense set to bounce back, and has a WR1 ceiling. Besides that pesky injury, what’s not to love? Aren’t you spending draft capital on guys like AP, Charles, Bryant, McCoy, Bell (need I go on?) who all have injury concerns? Why not give the same consideration to this top wideout who is chopping at the bit to get back on the field?
Heart of the Team
Can we prove a direct correlation between the absence of Nelson and Green Bay’s poor performance overall last season? No, not completely. But you all saw it right? Cobb seemed to have the hardest adjustment, as he became the WR1 overnight and struggled to meet these high expectations. Cobb ranked as the #31 fantasy wideout in 2015 which disappointed many after his ADP skyrocketed post-Nelson injury. Eddie Lacy finished as the #24 fantasy RB after dominating in 2014 (#6 fantasy RB) and 2013 (#7). All signs point to Green Bay returning to form this season and the offense looked much better so far in preseason. All that’s left is to wait and watch it come together in week 1 versus Jacksonville. The only question is will Jordy be your starter or will you be too fearful (or conservative) to pull the trigger? I’m predicting he receives 130+ targets, for 1400 yards and 10 TDs.
What went wrong?
Last season, Mike Evans was being drafted as a third rounder. He finished as WR26 in standard leagues and WR22 in PPR formats. Obviously, a disappointment, but he did see an increase in targets (145), receptions (74), and yards (1,211). The biggest factor in his regression was the big drop in touchdowns. He only hauled in two of 15 red zone targets for touchdowns compared to the 10 of 19 he hauled his rookie season. He was limited to three total touchdowns to go along with 15 drops. His touchdown regression was expected, but no one predicted it would drop that far. That goes so show you how unpredictable touchdown production can truly be.
Out with the Old, in with the New…
Jordy Nelson has been a solid fantasy contributor since his breakout year in 2011. He’s logged over 1,200 yards in three of the last four seasons and has posted double-digit touchdowns in two of the last four. I mean, what’s not to like. Oh, wait. He’s coming off an ACL injury. And he’s 31 years old? I know, these hot taeks will singe your eyebrows off.
I’m not one of those guys who try to predict injury or tell you he’s going to fall off a cliff because of his age. However, it would be silly to not take it into account. When I’m drafting, I always look at what a players upside or ceiling and what kind of opportunity/volume they will see. The ceiling and volume are the two biggest reasons I will take Evans over Jordy.
Mike Evans, is a budding star, and could easily finish as a WR1 in 2016. He’s increased his targets in each of the last two seasons. His only competition is Vincent Jackson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and, whoever wins the No.3 job. With very little to compete with him for targets, I would expect for him to see the lion’s share. If I was projecting stats, I would put his targets in the 150-160 range. He should also improve upon his red zone efficiency which haunted him in 2015.
With improved chemistry between Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, the sky is the limit for the third year wide receiver. Mike Evans, who just turned 23, still has plenty of room to grow. he will be heavily targeted and is an elite deep threat. His 6’5 230-pound frame makes him a lock to see significant red zone looks. Add in the expected improvement from Winston and you have yourself a bonafide WR2 with WR1 upside.
I currently have Mike Evans slotted in as my WR7 in my rankings, which is the highest among the group. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him exceed my expectations. He’s in the perfect situation to explode this season. When I’m picking my second round pick, I would avoid picking a player with so many question marks (Jordy Nelson) and go with the guy who can blow his 2.08 ADP out of the water.
If I was projecting his full stat line it would look something like this:
Standard: 206 WR7 PPR: 294 WR7
I feel like a broken record. Evans is in a terrific spot to have his best season as a pro. He’s one of the rare fantasy options who didn’t see a drop in ADP despite an underwhelming 2015. I think it goes to show just how savvy the fantasy community has become.
I don’t need a ton of flashy stats and words to tell you how #good Mike Evans can be. He’s 23 years old and should only improve. He’s a first round talent but can be had in the middle of the second round.
The decision between Jordy Nelson and Mike Evans is an easy one for me. I’ll take the upside and volume over the elder with question marks every day of the week. Like I said, I don’t mind Jordy Nelson. He’s been a fine fantasy contributor for years, but if I’m on the clock, I’ll take Mike Evans all day and twice on Sunday.