Davante Adams was supposed to be the latest captivating chapter in “The Ted Thompson Guide to Drafting Second Round Receivers”. After the success of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, it seemed a sure thing that Adams would develop into another reliable offensive weapon for Aaron Rodgers.
But after flashing potential at the end of his rookie season, 2015 happened. Shoddy routes. Dropped passes. Miscommunications. Lack of separation from defenders.
Adams was flat out terrible in his sophomore year, ranking as Pro Football Focus’s 109th receiver last season among qualifying players. But he was drafted in the second round for a reason, and he oozed potential in his rookie season.
So what I set out to figure out is this: is Davante Adams broken for good? Is he just a subpar receiver who won’t ever be a legitimate offensive threat? Or does he still possess the skills to develop into the receiver we all thought he would be?
This article from Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders does an excellent job of breaking down what plagued Adams last season.
"“Davante Adams is the Packers’ biggest problem. He was a second-round draft pick of Ted Thompson’s in 2014, but has done nothing in his career so far to suggest he was worthy of that high of a selection.” – Cian Fahey"
Fahey writes that a receiver must consistently do at least one of three things to succeed: get open, create yards after the catch, or make contested catches. Randall Cobb makes his living doing the first two. James Jones excelled at the last one. Jordy Nelson is the rare beast that can do all three. But which can Davante do?
Coming out of college, scouts agreed that Adams was a raw receiver without much experience running an NFL route tree. Adams’ strength is not his route running, but rather his ability to win at the catch point and create yards after the catch.
We saw both of those abilities in the divisional round against the Cowboys two years ago.
Last season, plays like those above were few and far between. While Adams often found soft spots in coverage in his rookie season as defenses devoted their resources to covering Nelson and Cobb, the lack of any downfield threat last season allowed defenses to absolutely blanket Adams. His route running has never been his strong suit, and with the aggressive press coverage that defenses employed against Green Bay following the bye week, there was precious little room for creating yards after the catch.
This left Adams’ only chance of success being to win at the catch point. That, of course, was a complete disaster.
If you can’t get open, you better be able to pluck the ball out of the air when Aaron Rodgers is squeezing the ball into impossible windows. James Jones averaged 17.8 yards per reception last year at the age of 31 because of precisely that ability. Despite a 39.5 inch vertical jump, though, Adams let many potential catches hit the ground because he was unable to position his body correctly and track the ball in the air.
Despite what happened last season, Adams is not a lost cause just yet. He still can be a productive complementary receiver in the Packers offense. For that to happen, though, two things need to improve: his hands and his route running.
As far as his hands go, Adams has at least displayed this ability before. He’s made a number of difficult catches both in college and in the NFL. His drops this season appeared to be the result of a crisis of confidence. While we’ve come to see Jones as the holy grail of winning at the catch point, it’s very easy to remember the drops that he suffered through earlier in his career. Improvement in this area is achievable.
The much bigger issue to tackle is Adams’ route running. I mentioned earlier that route running has never been Adams’ forte. It’s unlikely he’ll ever develop the subtlety and explosion in his routes players like Greg Jennings and Nelson have used to become superstars.
But if Adams is to become even a passable NFL receiver, his route running needs to get to a place where Aaron Rodgers can throw him the ball with confidence. He needs to run his routes with confidence and aggression.
One of the biggest mistakes that Mike McCarthy made last season was not having a full-time dedicated wide receivers coach. He’s corrected that, though, promoting Luke Getsy from offensive quality control coach to wide receivers coach. The hope is that this will result in more individualized attention being paid to Adams’ route running.
Improvement this year isn’t an option for Adams. It’s a mandate. He won’t receive a starting job by default like he did last training camp. Young receivers are breathing down Adams’ neck fighting for snaps.
Ty Montgomery is a third-round pick who was just settling into the offense before his season-ending injury last year. Jared Abbrederis has displayed far more subtlety in his route running than Adams. Jeff Janis is worlds more explosive and is coming off a hugely successful playoff performance. Trevor Davis is a rookie with speed to get downfield that Adams will never have.
Adams’ roster spot is likely safe this season. Though it has happened before (see Worthy, Jerel), it’s not like Ted Thompson to give up on a high draft pick this early in their career.
No, Davante Adams isn’t broken. He still has the athleticism to be dangerous in space, and his route running and catching abilities are places where improvement is possible.
Though he doesn’t possess the skills to become a true #1 receiver, Adams still has the talent to be a dangerous complementary threat for the Packers.
Now it’s up to him to show that talent this season, or he’ll watch his once promising career waste away on the sidelines.