It's a good thing the Green Bay Packers re-signed Randall Cobb this offseason. Can you imagine the trouble they'd be in right now had Cobb not taken their four-year, $40 million deal just as free agency opened in March?
If tests on Monday show that the knee injury Nelson sustained Sunday in the first quarter of a preseason game at Pittsburgh is a torn ACL, then Nelson's season is over and the Packers' high-powered offense can't possibly be the same without him.
As valuable as Cobb is -- he caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns last season -- he's still only 5-foot-10 and best suited to play in the slot. At 6-3, Nelson is the Packers' big-play threat on the perimeter. He was tied for the NFL lead last season in 40-plus yard touchdowns catches (with seven). Since 2011, he ranks third in the NFL with 53 catches of 25 yards or more.
Nelson is also quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite target. Nelson caught a career-high 98 passes last season and had 85 the year before. Last season, Rodgers threw his way 149 times. Only three receivers -- Demaryius Thomas (with 185), Antonio Brown (180) and Julio Jones (163) -- were targeted more, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
No wonder Rodgers was so downtrodden after the game.
"It's difficult to lose a guy like that in a meaningless game," the quarterback said.
Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy almost certainly won't ask any one player to take on the kind of yeoman's work that Nelson gave them, but they've made it clear throughout the offseason that Adams was ready to a step forward even with Nelson in the mix. This spring, McCarthy called him the MVP of the offseason after Rodgers said he has a "humongous upside, and he's starting to reach that upside."
In the red zone, they already were preparing for Richard Rodgers to play a bigger role, and the second-year tight end showed his potential in that area of the field with a 21-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien in the second quarter Sunday.
The Packers might look to add a veteran receiver but if not, then Janis and Montgomery will get increased opportunities. Physically, Janis (at 6-3, 219) most resembles Nelson, but he remains raw. He played in only three games last year as a rookie, although he has three preseason touchdown catches in his career. The rookie Montgomery, a third-round pick, has proved to be a quick study and probably can play on the edge or in the slot. Packers college scout Sam Seale described the 6-foot Montgomery as a bigger Cobb.
"We've got a lot of guys right now fighting for spots, and we're still trying to figure out who's going to be the impact players for us on our team," Aaron Rodgers said. "That could change after this week or that could not. We'll see what happens."