With DeSean Jackson’s 2019 season officially over, JJ Nelson could help to reincorporate the deep ball back into the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense.
Could even a Madden name generator give a man two names that strike more bitter animosity straight to the hearts of Philadelphia Eagles fans the world over?
Between JJ Arcega-Whiteside‘s seeming inability to get on the field, and Nelson Agholor‘s downright unwillingness to lay out for a hard catch, it’s pretty safe to the Philly faithful wouldn’t shed a tear if either player were to take their talents elsewhere come spring – all the while lamenting why the team didn’t just draft D.K. Metcalf in the first place.
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But focus solely on his name does a major disservice to Nelson’s abilities on the football field and of those abilities, one stands far and away above his slender 5-foot-10, 160 pounds frame: Speed.
JJ Nelson is fast, really, really fast.
A star runner out of Midfield, Alabama, Nelson pulled double duty at UAB (the University of Alabama Birmingham for those uninitiated), splitting up his time between track and field and the football field – amassing 9,340 total yards between his work as a kick returner, punt returner, and wide receiver.
While these meager numbers didn’t vault Nelson into the national conversation – or help to save his college’s then-canceled football program (more on that here) – it did get the Blazer invited to the NFL Combine of for no other reason than to get an official time for his rumored record-breaking 40-yard dash.
Needless to say, Nelson quite literally ran with the opportunity.
All laced up and ready to run, Nelson outpaced every performer in Indianapolis with a 4.28 40 yard dash, the fastest performance of any player since Chris Johnson all the way back in 2008. While Nelson backed up this generational speed with a solid showing at the gauntlet, clearly Bruce Arians had seen enough, as his then-Arizona Cardinals drafted the fringe NFL receiver 159th overall.
From there, Nelson spent four seasons as an on-again, off-again deep threat for the Cardinals, logging 1,076 yards on 63 catches from 2016-17 before amassing only 64 yards on 19 targets in the final year of his contract.
And yet, despite fizzling out under the prolific duo of Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen, Nelson earned a second contract with the Oakland Raiders – the same Oakland Raiders who traded for Antonio Brown on the very same day.
While things didn’t work out between Jon Gruden and Nelson, in large part due to injury, the speedy wide receiver has maintained steady interest from receiver-hungry teams around the NFL – participating in workouts for the Houston Texans and Arians’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Don’t get me wrong, Nelson isn’t a game-changer or a true number one wide receiver – and outside of his former Oakland teammate, there really isn’t one of those sitting on the open market – but his ability to stretch the field could be a massive upgrade over the motley crew of possession receivers the Birds currently employ.
Granted, if Nelson can haul in a handful of 50-yard catches over the back half of the season it would go a long way to changing a few games in the Eagles favor, but as we’ve seen over the last half-decade, deep threat wide receivers are dangerous because of the threat of their speed, not their propensity to haul in a dozen passes a game.
From Torrey Smith to Chris Given, to Shelton Gibson (what is he up to?), the Eagles have employed a number of less than reliable deep threats to line up at the z, but none of those players ran a 4.28 – very few humans do.
With enough speed to get past virtually every cornerback in the league, and an underrated ability to make plays in the open field – he did earn NFC Player of the Week honors in 2017 for a reason – Nelson is just too tantalizing to pass up if his medicals check out.
It’s not like it’s a pivotal decision.
Over the better part of five seasons, Nelson has never logged more than 50 percent of his team’s offensive snaps at the pro level, so it’s not like he’s a high-maintenance, every-down player. No, if Nelson can just replace those six odd targets Jackson has averaged over his 12-year NFL career it could go along way to adding some verticality to the passing game the like of which haven’t been utilized since Week 1.
So regardless of whether the Philadelphia Eagles opt to sign Jordan Matthews or opt against bringing back the Vanderbilt alum for a third stint with the team JJ Nelson’s speed could be the missing piece to get Doug Pederson‘s offense back on track – let’s just hope for the fan’s sake that his middle name isn’t ‘Mack Hollins‘.