Ranking the Packers (No. 3): Davante Adams
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 3: WR Davante Adams (6-1, 215, seventh season, Fresno State)
In the moments after last season’s playoff win against Seattle, Aaron Rodgers used about the highest praise imaginable for 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 – and the team – 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, Adams developed an otherworldly connection with Rodgers. Imperceptible body language resulted in a barrage of long plays, back-shoulder catches, second-reaction connections and touchdowns.
Against the Seahawks, 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.”
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, as Adams put it, a “special” connection. And it was a connection that couldn’t be built overnight.
“I talked to Jordy about it a lot, too,” Adams said, “and it was really nothing he could tell me. He was like, ‘It’s just a feel, bro.’”
Initially, Adams’ success came mostly on his ability to win routes alongside Nelson and Cobb. As one of the game’s premier route runners, Adams can win with ability. But with experience, trust and time, Adams can win mentally, too.
“Earlier in my career, it was a yes/no,” Adams said. “He would look backside and, if he liked the one-on-one, he’d trust that I could win my route and he would throw it. Now, it’s getting to the point where even if he doesn’t start with me and I’ll be backside, he’ll work his way back over there. The perfect example, last year in the Arizona game, he threw that touchdown to me in the back of the end zone where he just kind of gave a quick point, and it was almost instantly where I just felt like I knew before that that’s what he was about to do. So, I was already prepping for the movement of it. As he was pointing, I was sticking my foot and it was literally simultaneously. Situations like that, it doesn’t really matter how good you are. It’s more so just being able to read each other and understand.”
There have been three seasons of 997 receiving yards in NFL history. Adams has two of them, including last year. Had he not missed four games with a toe injury, his 83 receptions for 997 yards and five touchdowns projected to 111 receptions for 1,329 yards and seven touchdowns. As it was, he ranked fourth in the league in catches per game and fifth in yards per game. He dominated the playoffs with 17 catches for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Of 79 receivers to be targeted 50 times, Adams ranked sixth with 2.33 yards per pass route, according to Pro Football Focus. At times, the production was so good that it was easy to forget he was playing hurt. However, after averaging 12 missed tackles the past three seasons, he forced only two last season.
Expect more prolific production on an offense that lacks a sure-fire No. 2 threat at receiver or tight end. This will be Adams’ fourth 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. Even with a modest five touchdowns last season, Adams leads the NFL with 40 touchdown catches over the past four seasons.
“For him it’s just about recall,” Rodgers said. “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.”
Why he’s so important: The state of Green Bay’s receiver corps is no secret. General manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t draft one, and his only semi-big addition, Devin Funchess, opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. Maybe Allen Lazard will blossom into a true No. 2 receiver. Maybe Canadian import Reggie Begelton will be the real deal. As it stands, though, Adams is the only sure thing on the depth chart. That’s because, over the last five drafts, 62 receivers have gone in the first three rounds. Green Bay is one of two teams to not draft one.
As great as Adams has become, his game is not without flaw. According to Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions, he dropped eight passes last season. Of 79 receivers who were targeted 50 times, his drop rate of 8.8 percent ranked 53rd, according to PFF. He also fumbled twice.
“It all starts with Davante and his abilities,” Rodgers said. “He’s a dynamic player. When you have a dynamic guy like that, he opens up the field for the rest of the guys.”