RENTON, Wash. — In the second half of 2015, no quarterback in the NFL was better than Russell Wilson on third down.
“I felt better today, honestly, than I thought I was going to wind-wise, conditioning-wise, running those routes being full padded and everything,” Nelson said after practice, which lasted 1 hour, 47 minutes. “I thought that was a good sign. We’ve been working inside, so we’ve been getting the conditioning aspect in. But there’s nothing like playing a game, and playing a game in Jacksonville Week 1, it’s going to be hot down there. I’m sure everyone will be having to deal with it, and it’ll be part of it.”
Nelson said despite his extremely limited return, he believes he’s on track to play against the Jaguars in the opener on Sept. 11.
“Absolutely. I don’t think anything’s changed,” he said.
With only one more full practice scheduled this week before Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, it’s unlikely Nelson would play against the 49ers. And typically, coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t play his starters in the preseason finale, although it’s unknown if he would make an exception for the Sept. 1 game at Kansas City to get Nelson some work before the regular-season opener against the Jaguars.
The scariest thing, perhaps, is the players I haven’t named who narrowly miss out on this team. Chris Harris was an undrafted free agent in 2011 before turning into a perennial Pro Bowl corner in Denver. Jimmy Smith, Byron Maxwell and Buster Skrine could easily step in as nickel corners. Aldon Smith was as dominant a pass rusher as there was in the league before his career unraveled. Ryan Kerrigan and Pernell McPhee are dominant at their best, as is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Cameron Jordan has made two Pro Bowls and can’t even sniff this team. The talent level in this class is unreal. It is already historic.
What can rival it? The best defensive draft in post-merger NFL history is almost definitely the class of 1981, which produced five Hall of Famers on the defensive side of the ball: Lawrence Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long, Mike Singletary and Rickey Jackson.
That ’81 class made 15 first-team All-Pro appearances through its first five seasons in the league, a staggering number. The defenders of 2011? They have 16 All-Pro appearances in their first five seasons. Watt, Peterson, Sherman and Miller have been awarded the honor multiple times. The offensive players from that same draft have combined for just four All-Pro appearances over that span.
Can the class of 2011 live up to the lofty heights of 1981 and send five defenders to Canton? It’s not out of the question. Watt faces some injury concerns, but he’s probably already done enough to justify enshrinement. Every eligible two-time defensive player of the year has made it to the Hall of Fame, and Watt has already won the award three times.
The same logic also suggests that Peterson and Sherman have already done enough to get in. Of the 25 Canton-eligible, post-merger defenders who were named first-team All-Pros three times during their careers, 16 (64 percent) made the Hall of Fame. Both NFC West cornerbacks have done that before the sixth year of their respective careers. Miller, who has racked up the same honor two times, is knocking on the door. The fifth Hall of Famer isn’t quite as clear, but with Dareus (when not suspended), Houston and Quinn all regularly producing dominant seasons, there are reasons to be optimistic.