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Wednesday November 30th, 2011

Jordy Nelson burning defensive backs has been a common occurrence as of late. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

Jordy Nelson probably flies under the radar as much as any other player in the NFL, so maybe it's fitting that you have to dig a little deeper to discover just how big an impact he's made this season.

Let's start with the simple stuff: Nelson has 44 catches for 782 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The nine TDs are the most scored by any Packers player this season, and his yardage total ranks 14th in the league, less than 100 yards back of teammate and Green Bay's No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings. Nelson also has the Packers' longest play from scrimmage this season -- a 93-yard touchdown against St. Louis -- and is just one catch shy of a career high.

By all measures, it has been a very, very good year for Nelson, a 2008 second-round selection out of Kansas State.

But a closer look reveals that Nelson is having an even better season than the stats indicate.

Nelson's 44 catches come on just 59 targets, giving him a catch rate of 74.6 percent on the balls that are thrown in his direction. According to AdvancedNFLStats.com, that's the second-best number in the league, behind only Minnesota's Percy Harvin (76.1).

Nelson leads the league in yards per target at 13.3, well ahead of Johnny Knox and Mike Wallace, who are tied for second in that category at 11.7.

What's that mean? To put it simply, when Aaron Rodgers looks in Nelson's direction, very good things are happening for the Packers.

Some of that has to do with Rodgers, of course, who is averaging an astronomical 9.8 yards per pass attempt across the board -- Tom Brady is No. 2 in the NFL at 8.6. For comparison's sake, the highest yards-per-attempt average for a career in NFL history is 9.0, a mark held by Otto Graham.

Chalking up all of Nelson's success to Rodgers' passing proficiency would be a mistake, though.

This has been a steady rise for Nelson, who chipped in for Green Bay with 55 total catches between 2008 and '09, then became a huge part of the offense last season, highlighted by his nine-catch, 140-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl win over Pittsburgh. During this incredible 17-game winning streak the Packers are on, Nelson has made 71 catches for nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. Put those numbers in one full regular season and they'd be near the top of every wide receiver list.

But in case you're still not convinced, we can get a little more technical.

The stats website Football Outsiders ranks all NFL position players by a couple of categories: Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). The names of -- and methods used to calculate -- both stats are complicated, but Football Outsiders offers these  explanations:

DYAR is "the value of the performance on plays where this WR caught the ball, compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage." DVOA is "value, per play, over an average WR in the same game situations." Without oversimplifying it, Football Outsiders is comparing players to their positional counterparts.

The DYAR rankings:

Wes Welker -- 382

Mike Wallace -- 343

Nelson -- 332

Essentially, those players are outgaining a hypothetical average receiver dropped in to their same spots by that much yardage.

And Nelson is the No. 1-rated wide receiver in DVOA at 54.1 percent -- Nelson ranks as that much more valuable than an average wide receiver would in his role with the Packers. The next closest contender in that category is Wallace at 41.8 percent.

We're bordering on going all MLB sabermetrics here, so back to the eye test. Nelson has had the occasional off game, like his four-catch, 26-yard performance on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit or a 17-yard effort in Week 5 vs. Atlanta. For the most part, though, he's delivered.

One of the reasons is he's not afraid to go over the middle, while also providing a deep threat (he has four TD catches of 40 or more yards this season). But more to the point -- on an offense with Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley and others, Nelson draws less attention than he should. Defenses focus on the Packers' big names and often leave Nelson in one-on-one coverage, more often than they should against a third cornerback in a nickel package. Maybe that will change going forward. If Nelson keeps delivering like he has this year, the Packers' opponents will have no choice but to game plan for him.

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