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ESPN: J.J. Nelson is one of the NFL’s next breakout stars

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson (14) runs for a first down after the catch as Seattle Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead (35) makes the tackle during the second half of a football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

J.J. Nelson has done a solid job for the Cardinals since being drafted in the 5th round out of UAB last season.

Known more for his speed than anything else, as a rookie he averaged 27.2 yards on 11 receptions, while scoring two touchdowns.

Over the offseason, there was talk about how much he had progressed, and there was talk that a breakout season was in store. It took a little while, but a few weeks ago in Carolina Nelson had ascended to the No. 2 receiver role, and it seemed like the season of J.J. had formally arrived.

But then, two weeks later against the 49ers, Nelson lost a fumble and then later a drop led to an interception. He ultimately played on just 62 percent of the offensive snaps, behind receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd but ahead of John Brown.

So, where does Nelson stand these days? That’s hard to say, though with 17 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns on the season, he does seem to be trending up. And that, among other reasons, is why ESPN’s Rivers McCown, in an Insider piece listing “The NFL’s next breakout stars,” has the Arizona wideout 17th.

Nelson has validated our faith in him by elevating to the No. 2 receiver job over John Brown and Michael Floyd. As we noted in the latest version of this piece, Nelson can fly. This year, he’s the only Arizona receiver with a positive DVOA (7.7 percent through Week 10), though that’s more an issue with Carson Palmer’s decline than the quality of Arizona’s receivers.

Nelson isn’t physically imposing, and he doesn’t break many tackles. He wins by running by or around you. Although that sort of receiver isn’t normally going to be a dominant player, Nelson has thrived early in his career and looked better than the rest of his peers. Right now, the arrow is pointing strongly toward his being an effective version of Tavon Austin — you know, the one only Jeff Fisher sees on the field every Sunday.

Sounds about right.

Nelson’s place in the Cardinals’ receiver pecking order is probably fluid, depending on injuries and other factors. What is certain, however, is that his speed — he ran a 4.28 40 at the NFL Draft Combine — is a weapon, and as he continues to refine his craft, he’ll be even more dangerous.

And, given that Floyd is set to become a free agent after this season and Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his career, a bigger role for Nelson could be on the horizon.

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