The last time Davante Adams was called upon to replace Jordy Nelson, things didn’t go so well for him or the Green Bay Packers.
But that was last year. This is now.
The Packers are back in the NFC divisional playoffs, and Adams returns to the spotlight with Nelson’s availability for Sunday’s game against Dallas in doubt following two freshly broken ribs.
Only this time, the third-year receiver out of Fresno State is ready for a starring role.
Until recently, Adams had showed only glimpses of the talent that propelled him to Bulldogs career records for receptions (233) and touchdown catches (38) in just two college seasons.
The explosive releases off the line of scrimmage, the ability to make tough catches in traffic, the strength and elusiveness to shed tacklers – all were intermittent during Adams’ first years in the NFL.
It gets frustrating but you’ve just got to be mature and look at it as a process. Just be patient.
Heck, just hanging onto the ball proved a challenge. Last year, with Nelson sidelined with a torn ACL and Adams expected to shoulder a larger load in the Packers’ passing game, his 52 percent catch rate (50 receptions on 94 targets) was rated by Pro Football Reference as one of the least efficient seasons of the past 25 years for a receiver who isn’t a true deep threat.
Then after Adams tore his MCL during Green Bay’s NFC wild-card victory and backup Jeff Janis caught two touchdowns from Aaron Rodgers in the Packers’ divisional-round loss, some questioned whether Janis would usurp Adams’ spot as the No. 3 receiver.
“Obviously, the season I had last year, I wasn’t proud of it,” Adams said in May. “So I’ve got to change it and do what I’ve got to do to move forward.”
Move forward, he did. Even though the knee injury curtailed his offseason conditioning, Adams has been a completely different player in Year 3.
Making 15 starts, the East Palo Alto native finished the regular season with 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns. All ranked second on the Packers to Nelson, who during his college career at Kansas State had 15 catches during a November 2007 game at Bulldog Stadium.
Adams’ significance has only grown in the playoffs. During Sunday’s wild-card win over the Giants, he caught eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.
12 regular-season TD catches for Davante Adams, tying him for second in the NFL
Green Bay needed all that production after Nelson left the game early in the second quarter with what turned out to be two broken ribs. He has not practiced all week.
“That’s a huge piece of our offense that we had to play without,” Adams said.
The Packers began the game with five straight punts before starting their sixth drive at the New York 38-yard-line with 3:45 left before halftime.
On first down, Adams detected the Giants were shifting their coverage from two-deep to one-high safety. He put an ankle-twisting move on cornerback Eli Apple at the line and bolted down the right sideline, where Rodgers delivered a perfect pass for a 31-yard gain.
A play later, Rodgers scrambled in the pocket for an eternity – OK, it was actually 8 seconds – before passing into a vise grip-tight window to Adams, who snared with both hands in the end zone. The ensuing extra point put Green Bay ahead for good.
I had a Jordy-like play on the scramble.
Davante Adams, referencing injured teammate Jordy Nelson
“I had a Jordy-like play on the scramble,” Adams said afterward. “Aaron held the ball for about 30 seconds it felt like, just making something happen.”
Why did it take Adams until his third NFL season to display his college talents? It’s mostly a factor of health.
An ankle injury during a September 2015 game against Seattle hampered Adams for the rest of that season. He couldn’t make sharp cuts or explode off the line. And when the ankle finally recovered, along came the knee.
“Last year he wasn’t healthy, and this year he’s been healthy and he’s playing the way that we projected him to play last year,” Rodgers told NFL.com. “You’ve seen on the touchdowns he’s scored on slant routes, being able to get that separation at the line of scrimmage.”
While Adams’ production dipped, his confidence never did. Even when outsiders began to question his ability or whether the Packers erred by drafting him in the second round in 2014.
This year he’s been healthy and he’s playing the way that we projected him to play last year.
Aaron Rodgers, on Davante Adams
Even though Adams has answered the doubters, aside from a rough outing against the Bears when he dropped two touchdown passes and later “shredded” his gloves, the 24-year-old has yet to utter a single “I told you so.”
“I don’t even really think about it,” Adams said of his breakout 2016. “I just keep my head down and just keep trucking through. People show love and things like that and I appreciate it, but you’re only as good as that week so you’ve got to make sure you continue to spoil the fans and the rest of the people out there in the world.”
Fresno State fans were certainly spoiled during the two seasons (2012 and ’13) that Adams played at Bulldog Stadium.
Adams hasn’t forgotten, either. He still wears Bulldogs apparel and keeps a photograph of himself wearing a Fresno State uniform in his locker.
Not many receivers are fortunate enough to play with quarterbacks as good as Derek Carr in college and Rodgers in the NFL.
Except now, Adams is showing the fortune spreads both ways.
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
- Saturday: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons, 1:35 p.m. (KMPH-26.1); Houston Texans at New England Patriots, 5:15 p.m. (KGPE-47.1).
- Sunday: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs, 10:05 a.m. (KSEE-24.1); Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys, 1:40 p.m. (KMPH-26.1)