I’m not giving up on Davante Adams.
There, I said it.
It might not have rolled off the tongue, but I said and I stand by it: I believe in Davante Adams.
If you watched many (or really any) Packers games last year, then it’s highly likely you don’t believe in Davante Adams.
I can’t really say I blame you. Adams was particularly awful last year, an easy scapegoat for Green Bay’s offensive woes due to many dropped balls and miscommunications. But there’s a lot more to Adams’ story than that. Many are quick to forget that Adams was battling a nagging ankle injury for a good portion of last year. And even quicker to forget what an impressive rookie season he had just two seasons ago.
Before we get into that, let’s back up a second. There was much more at play than just Adams hands last year. You know the story by now: Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in a meaningless preseason game, and the negative effects rippled across every aspect of the Packers offense. With Nelson out, Randall Cobb drew extra attention that he wasn’t capable of handing out of the slot. It also recently came out that Cobb played through a shoulder injury for all of last season, which resulted in a loss of strength that rendered him unable to beat press coverage consistently. Adams hurt his ankle early in the season, missing three games and playing injured through a few others. Ty Montgomery came into replace him, looked promising, and then he too hurt his ankle and ended up missing the rest of the season.
With receivers struggling to get open, defenses were able to press the line more and play up against the run. As Eddie Lacy’s weight ballooned, the run game became less effective, and defensive coordinators could throw much of their arsenal at stopping Rodgers. He ended up having the worst statistical season of his career since his first year as a starter, taking a whopping 46 sacks along the way. By the end of the season, the Packers offensive line was so depleted by injury that long time guard Josh Sitton was forced to play tackle against one of the best pass rushers in the league during week 17. In 2015, just about everything that could go wrong (outside of Rodgers getting hurt), did, resulting in the 12th worst offensive ranking according to FootballOutsiders all-inclusive DVOA metric.
According to that same metric, Adams graded out as the second-worst receiver in all of football to have at least 50 catches (Adams had exactly 50). Coming off his successful rookie season, Mike McCarthy touted Adams as the MVP of OTAs, and even loftier expectations were mounted following Nelson’s unfortunate injury. Clearly, Adams wasn’t ready to live up to the pressure that was thrust upon him.
“DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation,” according to the FootballOutsiders website. Essentially, it ranks teams based on important things like the strength of your opponent, in-game situations, whether you’re playing at home or on the road, etc. It paints a far clearer picture than mere points or yards statistics can. The Packers ranked an atrocious 21st last year; in Adams rookie season, Green Bay ranked first.
2015 made it easy to forget just how solid Adams was as a rookie. He graded out positively in DVOA, ahead of fellow rookies Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and John Brown. He also averaged an impressive 11.7 yards per catch, had the most receiving yards in a game (123) by a Packers rookie since Sterling Sharpe, and set franchise postseason single-game receiving records for receptions (7) and yards (117). He didn’t shy away from the spotlight, with his two biggest games coming in primetime against the Patriots and in the playoffs against the Cowboys. The tape speaks for itself. Adams displayed crisp route running and above average yards after catch skills, some things that can take years to develop at a pro level.
That’s part of why I still believe in Adams. Here’s the other part. Adams was simply a monster at Fresno State in college. As a sophomore in 2013, he led the entire country with 131 receptions and an absurd 24 touchdowns, which is the 4th most ever in FBS history. He had 1,719 yards, second in the entire country to only current New Orleans Saint Brandin Cooks. Adams managed nearly every Fresno State career receiving record in just two short years, and put up literally the best numbers in the country despite a loaded receiver class.
Prior to last year, Adams was an elite producer and had seemingly improved every year. He has good size to be an outside receiver (6 foot 1, 212 lbs.), and freakish athleticism displayed by his 39.5 inch vertical. I’m a believer in the law of large numbers, so I tend to trust what the most typical output has been for a given player. I’m willing to bet that Adams’ skills are more aligned with his three levels of legit output, and that last year was an outlier due to many negative external factors.
Last year’s offense stunk for myriad reasons, but Jordy Nelson is back, Cobb is healthy, Lacy has lost weight, the Packers added Jared Cook, and Ty Montgomery is back as well. Adams now gets a fresh start, without an injured ankle or lofty expectations, and he has the benefit of being the third or fourth most important target in a loaded offense. It’s the perfect recipe for a major bounce-back season.
Many of you won’t agree with me. That’s fine – there’s nothing guaranteeing I’ll be right here. Some people on the Internet think that his “clock is ticking” as a Packer. But with defenses keyed in on Nelson, Cobb and Lacy, Adams is in the perfect spot.
I write this article because I know Packers fans (and fantasy football players) are hoping for a big rebound from this team’s offense. Nelson is obviously the X-factor in all of this, but he’s 31 and coming off an ACL repair, so Adams needs to start reaching his potential for this offense to truly regain its elite form. It’s easy to forget that the Packers were six minutes away from a Super Bowl berth the last time Nelson logged a meaningful snap.
Repeat after me.
I believe in Davante Adams.
And you should too. His best is yet to come.
Photo courtesy of Packers.com.