Nelson dominated the competition last season.
Yet, despite his statistical superiority, few realize just how great he is, making Nelson the best-kept secret in the National Football League.
While most fans and prognosticators would not classify Nelson as an elite receiver, one look at his advanced statistics shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he was the most efficient receiver—by far—in the NFL last season.
Nelson's aforementioned 2011 numbers qualify as a great season by any standard of measurement. Yet, digging just a little deeper reveals that, on a per-target basis, Nelson was not only elite—he was in a class by himself.
The amazing thing about Nelson's 2011 season is that he posted eye-popping numbers on just 96 targets (40th in the NFL). So, in order to rack up the 1,263 receiving yards he did, he averaged 13.2 yards per target, which led the league by a comfortable margin.
To put that into context, consider that Calvin Johnson, the consensus choice as the best receiver in football, averaged 10.6 yards per target. The only players who even came close to approaching Nelson were Chargers receiver Malcom Floyd, who averaged 12.2 yards per target, and the Giants' Victor Cruz, who averaged 11.7 yards.
Despite being targeted only 96 times, Nelson still managed to finish seventh in receiving yards and was the only receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards with fewer than 100 targets; every other receiver who finished in the top 10 for receiving yards had at least 114.
Who is the Packers' best receiver?
Nelson's yards per target numbers are extremely impressive, but his touchdown per target numbers are equally, if not more, impressive.
Once again, let us compare Nelson to Johnson.
Johnson, who was targeted 158 times last season, led all receivers with 16 touchdown receptions, meaning he caught a touchdown once every 9.8 targets. Nelson, on the other hand, had 15 touchdowns in 62 fewer targets, which equated to a touchdown every 6.4 targets.
Outside of Johnson, only one other player even came close to Nelson in touchdowns per target, as Laurent Robinson caught 11 touchdowns on just 80 targets for the Cowboys, which works out to be a touchdown every 7.2 targets.
With that in mind, the fact that Nelson was left off the 2011 NFC Pro Bowl roster is unthinkable. And even though some may suggest it, his production last year was no fluke.
In 2010, Nelson caught 70.4 percent of the passes thrown his way for an average of 9.3 yards per target; not great, but it would have placed him in the top 15 this year.
Also, in 2009, Nelson caught 71 percent of his targets and had an average of 10.3 yards per target. The only difference between 2011 and the previous two seasons was the amount of targets he received, getting 65 in 2010 and just 31 in 2009.
For his career, Nelson has averaged 10.3 yards per target and a touchdown every 11.6 attempts. So, he should continue along this path as long as the Packers keep feeding him the ball.
Nelson was the most efficient receiver in the NFL last season and the most underrated. Someday soon, though, as the yards and touchdowns keep piling up, his status as an elite receiver will no longer be questioned.