The Arizona Cardinals under Bruce Arians tend to throw the football around.
It is one of Arians favorite past times, throwing the ball deep, and having Carson Palmer, Arians has been able to throw the deep ball more than ever before, except for 2016.
While the number of completed deep passes was down, the attempts, especially the first half of the season, were still there.
One of the reasons why was the progression of J.J. Nelson.
Despite Michael Floyd dropping off again and John Brown battling a number of injuries, the Cardinals still found a way to get the ball deep, and Nelson was the reason why.
Marcus Mosher of FanRag Sports looked at Nelson as one of five potential breakout wide receivers in 2017:
Where Nelson thrives is as a deep threat. No receiver in the NFL had a higher average depth of target than Nelson in 2016. With head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer loving to chuck the ball downfield, Nelson is going to get plenty of opportunities to make plays in Arizona. I love how Nelson can track the ball in the air. While he doesn’t have the size to win on contested passes, he’s just so much faster than everyone else on the field. By the end of the year, the Cardinals were doing everything they could to get him the ball.
Nelson led the NFL in average depth of target in 2016 despite having to move into the wide receiver two role, something he just is not right now.
He did an adequate job, putting up solid numbers if you have him as a wide receiver three on your roster and Mosher made an interesting comparison:
He’s not going to put up huge numbers, but could I see him developing into a Kenny Stills’ type of player? Absolutely.
Stills career stats:
2013: 32 rec 641 yards 5 TD
2014: 63 rec 931 yards 3 TD
2015: 27 rec 440 yards 3 TD
2016: 42 rec 726 yards 9 TD
Outside of his first year in Miami, where he still put up over 16 yards per reception, Stills has been a consistent deep threat in both New Orleans and now Miami, that allowed him to sign a four year $32 million contract with the Dolphins this offseason.
Could Nelson’s arc be similar?
If he builds on his 2016, it sure seems like it.