Arizona Cardinals select draft’s fastest player in UAB WR J.J. Nelson
TEMPE, Ariz. — What J.J. Nelson lacks in speed he more than makes up for in…ummm…no, wait. He doesn’t lack for speed. At all.
Nelson was clocked at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the fastest time of anyone in Indianapolis.
“I ran a 4.28 at the combine, but I think I’m way faster than that,” Nelson said after the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, 159th overall. “It was 4.28, but I know I can get way lower than 4.28.”
It’s no secret pure speed is Nelson’s greatest selling point. At 5-foot-10 and 156 pounds he’s certainly slight of build, but that did not stop him from piling up impressive numbers while a UAB Blazer.
He finished college tied for fifth all-time at UAB with 116 receptions, and ranked third in receiving yardage at 2,273. He averaged 19.6 yards per catch, and his 20 receiving touchdowns are tied for third-most in school history.
But it’s his kick return skills that really jump off the page, as he averaged 38.7 yards per return and took four back for touchdowns in 2014.
Nelson said returning was the focus in his first meeting with the Cardinals, and is confident he will be pretty good in that role.
However, he wants to be more than just a return specialist.
“I feel like I see myself as a kick returner as well as a receiver, because with my speed, I have the ability to go out and blow the top off of the defense,” he said. “There is a lot of stuff I need to clean up, my route running and catching the ball cleaner than I do.
“I also feel like I’m really a dynamic receiver. I pretty much proved that at UAB. I feel like coming to Arizona that hopefully I can be able to compete for a wide receiver job as well as a special teams guy.”
The precedent was set last year when 5-foot-10 speedster John Brown went from being a third-round pick by the Cardinals to one of the team’s most dynamic players. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Nelson compares himself to Brown and Washington receiver DeSean Jackson, who is also slight of build but very, very fast.
“They go out every day undersized, but they don’t let any of that matter,” Nelson said. “They go out and do what they have to do and help their team be successful.”
However, Nelson said he is trying to get bigger and stronger, adding that he would like to get up to at least 165 pounds, but ideally closer to 175 before the season begins. He feels like the extra weight would not hurt his speed at all, but instead help his explosiveness and power. A little more weight, he said, will help him out in the long run.
And with Nelson, running is really what it’s all about. It’s why the Cardinals drafted him, and it will be why he sticks in the league. He’s certainly going to the right team, one with a need at returner but an offense that gets the most out of smaller, faster wideouts.
Arizona is a team Nelson had his eye on, a place the Midfield, Alabama native was going to consider if he went through the weekend without being selected. Of course, it’s more fun actually being drafted.
“It was great,” he said of how he felt when he got the call. “A guy like me, coming from where I’m coming from, it really didn’t matter what round I went to. Just to go through this whole process and being able to get drafted to a great franchise like the Arizona Cardinals, it was really and truly a blessing.
“Words can’t describe it. My family is happy for me; everyone in the city of Birmingham is just so happy for me right now,” he said. “I feel like everything planned out perfect. God had a plan for me.”