Adams Forming Nelson-Like Connection with Rodgers

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the moments after last week’s playoff win against Seattle, Aaron Rodgers used about the highest praise imaginable for Davante Adams.

He compared him to Jordy Nelson.

Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback in 2008, the year Nelson was Green Bay’s top pick. Together, they rose to greatness. From 2008 through 2017, Nelson posted numbers that rank in the top five in franchise history in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Over the years, he developed an otherworldly connection with Rodgers. Imperceptible body language resulted in a barrage of long plays, back-shoulder catches, second-reaction connections and touchdowns.

On Sunday, Rodgers had that same connection with Adams, whose 160 receiving yards set a Packers postseason record. He tortured Tre Flowers for two touchdowns, but it was his third-down catch that helped clinch the victory that showed the growing connection between the team’s legendary quarterback and his brilliant receiver.

“He made a number of very heady plays,” Rodgers said after the game. “That was one of them because that wasn’t exactly the check we were looking for. It was better. It was better than the check. Tonight reminds me of the connection that Jordy and I had for so many years where there were some unspoken things that we could do without even communicating anything about it, and Davante made three or four plays like that tonight, so that was pretty fun.”

Video: Rodgers-Adams connection based on "recall"

The Packers have had a pantheon of great receivers. Donald Driver passed the baton to Greg Jennings. Jennings passed the baton to Nelson. Nelson passed the baton Adams. A second-round pick in 2014, Adams played immediately as a rookie while learning on the fly from Nelson and Randall Cobb. In 2014, Nelson caught 13 touchdown passes. After missing 2015 with a torn ACL, he came back to catch 14 touchdowns. Many of those completions came on plays that weren’t in the playbook.

“It was special, man,” Adams said on Wednesday of watching Nelson and Rodgers. “I mean, he’d been all the way through Jordy’s whole time here, when I was here, just watching it, seeing how he would move around. It seemed like Aaron always knew where he was going to be in situations where it was always off-schedule. A situation like that, I talked to Jordy about it a lot, too, and it was really nothing he could tell me. He was like, ‘It’s just a feel, bro.’ Honestly, you start understanding and start to get used to the ways Aaron rolls, the tempo. So, you know there’s times you have to stay on the move, there’s times you have to stop and find a hole. And the body language, speaking with flashing hands and stuff like that, that you can only get through the reps. I tried to ask Jordy, ‘I want to do that type of stuff. I want to get those types of plays.’ Because I felt like early on in my career, I wasn’t really the beneficiary in those situations. The more years you have, I feel like the sharper that connection gets.”

This is Adams’ third season as Rodgers’ primary target. Rodgers’ relationship with Nelson was built on thousands upon thousands of practice reps and countless conversations in the meeting room, locker room and hallway. Now, it’s the practice reps and conversations that have helped the Rodgers-Adams connection take off. Over the past four seasons, Adams leads the NFL with 40 touchdown catches. The trust factor is through the roof, as evidenced by the play that sent the Packers to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at San Francisco.

“For him it’s just about recall,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I think being able to recall certain things that have happened throughout his career very quickly … I think that’s been one part of his game that’s definitely changed. Jordy and I used to have conversations like that all the time in the locker room on game day and on other days of the week, about certain things that happened at certain times over our careers playing together and being able to recall those things in the moment is how you can really get on the same page. He’s made a number of plays this season that have been just plays that really show how connected we are. I think a lot of it is due to his recall.”