With the Raiders adding perennial All-Pro WR Antonio Brown and an ascending receiver in Tyrell Williams the team has given Derek Carr what he needs to get back to form. New General Manager Mike Mayock didn’t stop there, however, landing speedy receiver JJ Nelson from Arizona. Here’s a look at Nelson’s game and how he fits in this receiving room.
Nelson was clocked running a 4.28 40 yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. A pick-up that would make Al Davis proud, Nelson has legitimate wheels to make corners play off or keep a safety on top.
On this post route from 2017 Nelson gets into another gear and is able to haul in the pass despite having a defender on his back. Nelson’s speed combined with Tyrell Williams big play ability makes this a potent passing attack on paper.
Being a deep threat isn’t just about taking the top off a defense. Receivers who make corners back off need to be able to take advantage of intermediate routes that the defense is willing to concede. The threat of Nelson’s speed forces a different dynamic in coverage than say a bigger bodied possession receiver.
On this play against the Eagles, Nelson’s defender bails into deep coverage and Nelson is able to drive inside on a dig route into the open area for a 15 yard reception.
Nelson has gotten noticeably better as a route runner in each season even though 2018 (with a rookie QB and a franchise in flux) was his statistically worst season. Nelson showed flashes of advanced route running in 2017 with this comeback route at the top of the screen.
Earlier in the quarter Nelson ran this same route against Eagles Patrick Robinson. Robinson read the QB and almost was able to get an interception. The Cardinals go back to this concept on the play above but notice the subtle head fake towards the post that makes Robinson take one false step inside. This nuance is what it takes to consistently win routes in the NFL.
Fast forward to 2018 and Nelson looked like he took serious strides in the route running department. Against the Lions and Pro-Bowl CB Darius Slay, Nelson runs a filthy curl route that is able to put a great defender on the ground.
Nelson uses a stutter step in his release to avoid the aggressive press coverage from Slay. He drives upfield and attacks the outside leverage making Slay widen before breaking back inside on a curl route. The threat of Nelson’s speed allows him to win on more than just deep routes.
Nelson is a quality addition to the Raiders because of his ability as a deep threat and promise as a route runner. At 5’10 and 180lbs Nelson shouldn’t be counted on to make contested catches in tight coverage but Tryell Williams and Marcel Ateman seem to be locked in at that role. Mayock and Gruden are clearly betting his abysmal 2018 production (7 catches, 64 yards, 0 TDs) was an aberration and with stability on offense Nelson can get back to his regular form.
On a bigger picture note: all of the receivers added to the Raiders this off-season win downfield, an area where Derek Carr has notably failed to take shots in recent years. The direction this offense seems to be going will either bring out the best in Carr or prove he isn’t the right fit for Gruden’s passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders quarterback can take advantage of these weapons.