Believe the Hype: Rodgers, Nelson Deserve Award Consideration
The Green Bay Packers’ season did not start out the way many anticipated. Widely regarded as a Super Bowl contender, the team eked out a few early wins before losing four straight games, falling to 4-6 and third place in the division they were almost unanimously picked to win in the preseason.
Many of those early season struggles fell squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He looked to still be in the funk that plagued his subpar 2015 season, missing throws he’d normally make and lacking the efficiency and statistical prowess that had made him one of the league’s best throwers for much of his career.
The struggles coincided with Jordy Nelson’s journey back from a torn ACL. While he still managed to be productive, Nelson was not as agile as he once was and couldn’t hit on the deep throws that made him so prolific in years past.
But in the second half of the season, Rodgers and Nelson alike have both looked more like the versions of themselves that football fans had grown accustomed to. The team as a whole now looks a lot different than it did a few weeks ago, as it holds an 8-6 record and controls its own path to the postseason. That success falls on the entire team, but the resurgence of Rodgers and Nelson has been a major factor.
For that reason, both Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have vaulted themselves into consideration for NFL awards. It’s more than just hype at this point; these two players are smack in the middle of the conversations for Most Valuable Player and Comeback Player of the Year.
Rodgers might not end up winning MVP, but he’ll definitely impact the voting process. To start, he has finally returned to the statistical juggernaut he once was. He’s completed over 70 percent of his passes on the Packers’ current four game winning streak to elevate his season percentage to 64.9. His 100.3 quarterback rating ranks fifth in the NFL, his 3781 yards rank sixth, and his 32 touchdown passes are the second most in the league. Since Green Bay’s Week 7 victory over the Bears, no quarterback has been rated higher by Pro Football Focus than Rodgers.
What’s more than just the statistics is the way in which Rodgers has brought the Packers back from what was looking like a lost season. Until Ty Montgomery’s explosive game against the Bears, Rodgers had been the team’s second leading rusher—behind Eddie Lacy, who hadn’t played since Week 6.
Rodgers has consistently used all of his weapons, and has overcome the occasional drops and other miscues that his receivers commit. He picked apart the league’s best defense in the Seahawks to the tune of three touchdowns and a 78 percent completion percentage. Each of the last four games, in which he’s thrown a total of seven touchdowns without an interception, have been victories and lifted the Packers into the thick of the NFC playoff picture.
Rodgers’ success has also come with very little help from the defense. The game against the Falcons could have been a Green Bay victory if the defense held onto a late lead, and that unit nearly coughed up a 17-point lead to the Bears that could have spelled the end of the Packers’ season. But Rodgers appears determined to drag the Packers to wins week after week, and deserves serious MVP consideration as a result.
Meanwhile, Jordy Nelson should be one of the favorites to win Comeback Player of the Year. After missing the entirety of the 2015 season, Nelson has fought back from a torn ACL to reestablish himself as one of the league’s top wide outs. Lacking the explosive speed that made him such a big deep threat in the past, Nelson has been forced to find a new niche on the team, but has accepted and excelled in his new role as a largely possession-based receiver.
He ranks seventh in the league in receptions with 82 and eighth with 1,037 receiving yards, his fourth 1000-yard campaign. But while his average yards per reception (12.6) would be the lowest since his rookie year of 2008, he has racked up 12 touchdown catches, the most in the entire league. To be a top ten receiver in nearly every statistical category just a year after suffering a torn ACL is an impressive feat that deserves recognition.
There are plenty of other candidates who are deserving of these two awards, and Rodgers’ case in particular would likely fall apart if the Packers fail to make the playoffs. But if Green Bay’s top quarterback and receiver continue to play like they have all season and help the Packers capture a division title and postseason berth, they would be just as deserving as anyone else who finds their name on the ballot.