By Cian Fahey

For a while now, the Green Bay Packers have enjoyed a warped reality.

More than any other team in the league, the Packers could endure absences of talent at important positions or widespread injury issues without suffering in the win-loss column. Having Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback has given them a player who could cover for those typical roster problems that often prove fatal for playoff ambitions. Rodgers' ability to elevate everyone around him and the fact that he isn't reliant on specific situations to be productive as an individual meant Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy had a greater margin for error with their rosters. That is the benefit of having the best quarterback in the league.

While Rodgers has never relied on anyone to be productive, the one player more than any other that he has never had to be concerned about carrying is Jordy Nelson. The wide receiver has been the Packers' second-best player for a while now. Both Clay Matthews and Josh Sitton could argue for that spot, but it's Nelson's consistency as a dominant boundary receiver that separates him.

So when Nelson tore his ACL against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second week of the preseason, it was an injury that sent shockwaves through the whole franchise.

Nelson had 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. It was the most productive season of his career. Needless to say, it will be very difficult for the Packers to replace his production regardless of how good Rodgers is. Replacing Nelson with Davante Adams or Ty Montgomery simply isn't a fair trade. But where Nelson's loss will really be felt is as a matchup piece against the better defenses in the league. Rodgers' talent will allow them to still overwhelm limited defensive teams, but when the windows tighten and the pass rush quickens, the absence of Nelson outside will allow opposing defenses to be more aggressive against Rodgers when he only has Randall Cobb as an established, wide skill set receiver.

Nelson has been one of the most dominant receivers in the league by most measures, but where he particularly excels is working the sideline. His athleticism is overwhelming, boasting a burst of acceleration along with long speed and agility to cover ground quickly. Against press coverage, he has the size and power to fend off more aggressive coverage, forcing him to be less reliant on his technique. His technique is refined when he is forced to display it, though. To show off the separation and positioning that those traits give him, Nelson uses his ball skills. How his feet and hands work in concert together can be truly astounding at times.

A staple of the Packers passing game in recent years has been Rodgers' ability to connect with Nelson on back-shoulder throws -- they are among the most difficult for cornerbacks to defend and are especially effective at negating aggressive press-man coverage. Rodgers receives plaudits for his consistent precision throwing these difficult passes, but he is helped a lot by Nelson's skill set. The wide receiver offers an abnormally large window for his quarterback to throw into because he excels at locating the ball and winning it at the catch point. On the above play from last season against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, Rodgers' pass is a poor one. It doesn't matter though, because Nelson pulls it in with an exceptional play on the ball.

Johnthan Banks' coverage on this play is very impressive. He presses Nelson at the line and sticks with the receiver even though he doesn't attempt to jam him. Banks appears to be anticipating the backshoulder throw; he turns with Nelson as the ball arrives. Instead of landing behind the defensive back for Nelson to work back to, Rodgers' pass comes in high over the cornerback's head. Nelson tracks it so he is able to make a play on the ball while the cornerback is forced to play the receiver. Nelson naturally catches the ball away from his body and has the strength to endure any contact Banks makes with him.

Controlling the ball at the catch point here is very difficult, so the play is made even tougher when Nelson has to do that and bring both feet down in bounds. Nelson has inches of space to stab the ground with the soles of his feet before falling out of bounds.

Not only does he manage to complete the catch, but he makes it look routine -- as he tends to do.

The threat of the back-shoulder throw always looms over defensive backs covering Nelson. They expect to see it at some point because of how effective Nelson and Rodgers are when they attempt that play. Of course, overplaying the back-shoulder throw isn't something defenders can do. Overplaying any type of sideline route against Nelson is a bad idea. He can win in every imaginable way, so stopping him requires perfectly disciplined coverage.

Like many of the top receivers in the NFL today, Nelson has the speed to simply run away from defensive backs in space. His size makes it difficult for cornerbacks to track him tightly, so when given a clear lane early he can take advantage of it. In the above play, Nelson is being covered by Bradley Fletcher of the Philadelphia Eagles. Fletcher stays with Nelson early in his route, but once Nelson looks back for the ball and is bumped by Fletcher, he is able to turn on a second gear to accelerate underneath Rodgers' pass and continue downfield for a huge play. More importantly, Nelson didn't force the play to the sideline early, meaning he created a pocket of space to the outside that he could accelerate into without the close attention of Fletcher.

Nelson can run decisive comebacks and in-breaking routes, but it's his subtle manipulation of defensive backs that allows him to showcase his incredible athleticism. Receivers who combine these traits are able to go against the best cornerbacks in the NFL without fear.

Nelson beat Darrelle Revis for a huge touchdown reception during the Packers' regular-season matchup with the New England Patriots last year. As the above GIF shows, the receiver ran a very precise route, relying on his footwork and upper-body power to create separation at the top. Revis isn't a big or particularly powerful cornerback, but he has the footwork and coverage skills to dominate most receivers. Nelson was able to get the better of him because he could shed the defensive back without interfering with him or disrupting the timing of his route. Every movement Nelson made from the very beginning of the play until he pulled away from Revis was deliberate to set up the cornerback in a position where he could take advantage of him.

{replace}Rodgers' pass wasn't as accurate as it could have been, but Nelson was able to comfortably pull it in over his head with his arms extended away from his body. The poor ball placement couldn't prevent him from sprinting across the field before turning down the opposite sideline and dragging a defender onto the pylon.

Like Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant, Nelson is not a receiver without any significant flaw. He is a receiver who is above average or better at every aspect of his position. He can beat the best cornerbacks in press-man coverage, dominate defenders at the catch point and create yardage after the catch with his athleticism and vision. Nelson is also the most experienced receiver on the Packers roster, so his intelligence and rapport with Rodgers carried great value.

Nelson had 71 first-down receptions last year. Significantly, Nelson also had the third-most first-down receptions of any receiver in the NFL on third or fourth downs last year. Rodgers looked to Nelson more than anybody else when he most needed a play. That is because Nelson had proven himself reliable over the years, but also because he is uncoverable in one-on-one situations as well as being adept at quickly diagnosing zone coverages to exploit the soft spot.

In the below GIF, Nelson beats one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, Brent Grimes, for a crucial fourh-and-10 conversion against the Miami Dolphins.

In similar situations this season, Rodgers' primary target will be Cobb. Cobb will receive more attention without Nelson, though, as the pair served to pull coverage away from each other when on the field at the same time. Cobb primarily works from the slot and is a very effective receiver, but he's not as well-rounded as Nelson.

Because this injury has come during the preseason, the Packers have an opportunity to alter their philosophy and become less of a passing team. That could minimize the impact of Nelson's loss, but they would need to be able to run the ball without as great a passing threat while also relying on their defense more. In Eddie Lacy, the Packers have a running back who proved he could carry the offense in the absence of a high-powered passing game. Lacy did that during his rookie season when Rodgers was sidelined for a long stretch. Defensively, the Packers have made some alterations but mostly retain the foundation of last year's defense. That defense ranked 16th in the league, by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric that measures efficiency on a snap-by-snap basis.

Regardless of how the Packers attempt to compensate for Nelson's absence in 2015, it's unlikely to be enough. Nelson is a superstar in his own right. He is not a product of Aaron Rodgers' ability or just another component on the conveyer belt of receivers who have passed through Green Bay over the past 15 years. Losing him for the season is a major blow to the Packers' hopes of becoming Super Bowl champions this season.

The only bigger blow would have been to lose Rodgers himself. That is a reality the franchise doesn't even want to imagine.

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Cian Fahey is a contributor to Sports on Earth. He is a freelance writer who began his career covering the New England Patriots as a beat writer before creating his own analysis-driven site, Pre Snap Reads. He now covers the NFL for Football Guys, Bleacher Report and Football Outsiders.