Green Bay Packers: How Davante Adams has improved in 2016

Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) avoids a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll (22) in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Green Bay defeated Philadelphia 27-13. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) avoids a tackle by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll (22) in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Green Bay defeated Philadelphia 27-13. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports /

Davante Adams‘ emergence has been key in the Green Bay Packers’ late-season success.

Selected in the second round by the Packers in 2014, Adams was expected to step up to the plate in the absence of Jordy Nelson, who missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL. An inability to separate, multiple dropped passes and injury issues of his own made it a year to forget for the man out of Fresno State.

Healthy and out to prove a point, Adams’ transformation has come at the perfect time, his 12 touchdown receptions helping Green Bay pile up six consecutive victories en route to a fifth NFC North title in six years.

Adams finished the regular season with 75 receptions for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns, more than his first two seasons combined. Between 2014 and 2015, Adams caught 88 passes for 929 yards and four touchdowns.

Only teammate Jordy Nelson caught more touchdown passes this year in the NFL. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans also found the end zone 12 times.

Adams winning with his release

Perhaps more than anything, this season has showed us just how serious Adams’ ankle injury was last year. Fully healthy, his footwork off the line of scrimmage has come a long way.

Last term while dealing with a gimpy ankle, and later a knee issue, Adams struggled to shake off press coverage and gain separation from defensive backs. This has been no such issue in 2016, Adams’ quick feet, burst and good use of hands used to beat the jam.

Adams’ fluid release has oftentimes thrown cornerbacks off balance, allowing him to gain the upper hand on the route and separate.

In the above clip, Adams is working on Lions second-year corner Quandre Diggs. He fakes an outside move before cutting inside with excellent footwork. Adams’ slant route has become a dangerous piece in Green Bay’s offense, and one he’s used to great effect throughout the season. We didn’t see enough plays like this last year.

And it’s no surprise on an ailing ankle. Pushing off against press coverage becomes problematic if playing through an injury as Adams was.

“You’ve seen on the touchdowns he’s scored on slant routes. Being able to get that separation at the line of scrimmage,” Aaron Rodgers said in December, via “You’ve seen it on his releases, vertical releases that he caught the other night on the go-ball, that stuff he wasn’t able to do last year because of his injury — injuries.”

Fully healthy, Adams’ quick feet and burst off the line of scrimmage has helped raise his game.

Winning contested catches

You know you’ve earned Rodgers’ trust when he’s willing to fire the ball your way into tight windows. It’s what made James Jones so dangerous early on in 2015. Jones lacked the speed or athleticism to quickly separate, but Rodgers trusted his longtime teammate to win in jump-ball situations. We’re seeing Rodgers utilize Adams in this way more and more.

Not many quarterbacks can make this throw. Talk about threading the needle. Yet while Rodgers deserves credit for his teardrop pass, the catch is equally spectacular, and just one example of the kind of play Adams has made throughout the year.

The third-year receiver will occasionally frustrate you with his simple drops, although this is an area he’s improved in, but his ability to make near-impossible catches makes him such a dangerous target, particularly in the red zone. Adams ranks fifth in the NFL in red zone targets, catching 14 of 25 sent his way with nine touchdowns.

When the field gets congested, Rodgers has no qualms looking in the direction of his 6-foot-1 receiver, whose nose for the end zone has helped transform Green Bay’s passing offense.

The deep threat

Sans Jordy Nelson, the Packers lacked a deep passing game last season. Adams was expected to become the boundary threat the offense lacked without their grizzled veteran, but he averaged just 9.7 yards per reception, good for just 112th in the NFL.

This year, Adams is averaging 13.3 yards per reception, ranking him 44th. He will never blaze past defenders with the top-end speed of a DeSean Jackson or Torrey Smith, but that’s not Adams’ game. What he’s done is force defenses to respect the deep ball, an area of the Packers offense that has come along in the second half of the season. Nelson’s return has also helped stretch defenses vertically.

Adams has 17 catches of at least 20 yards, good for 10th in the NFL. Nelson’s 19 puts him sixth on the list.

This play came in Adams’ dominant 113-yard, two-touchdown display at Philadelphia. It’s evident here he’s not lighting up secondaries with his speed, but he gained just enough separation downfield to open a throwing window. Adams ability to track the ball and secure the catch falling backwards arguably makes this his best play of the season.

Here Adams wins with an excellent double move, another part of his game that suffered as a result of his ankle injury. The result was a tone-setting, 66-yard touchdown on just the third play from scrimmage which sparked a 38-10 route of Seattle.

Adams and Nelson have helped reignite Green Bay’s deep passing game. They are both dangerous in play-action shots downfield, but arguably their best work belongs in the red zone. The pair have combined for 20 red zone touchdowns, according to

Next: Packers seven-round 2017 mock draft

Adams’ breakout campaign helped the Packers turn a slow start offensively into a hot stretch that has lifted Aaron Rodgers into the MVP conversation, and a run that makes this team one to fear in the postseason.