When Jordy Nelson went down with an ACL injury in the pre-season of the 2015 season, many thought second year pass catcher Devante Adams would provide more than adequate cover. Having impressed during his rookie season, with a standout showing against New England in week 13 and once more against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round, and receiving high praise from Aaron Rodgers many expected to see the birth of a new star in 2015. It did not happen. Injuries and constant drops plagued the Fresno State man’s campaign and he finished it with a disappointing 483 receiving yards and just one touchdown.
Reports coming out of camp during 2016 conflicted from Adams catching everything to him struggling to nail down the third receiver spot.
After being little more than a laughing stock through the first month of the season the third year pro has exploded and at present has 897 receiving yards and nine scores. Adams is on pace to beat his combined totals from his 2014 and 2015 seasons and is playing a major role in the Packers’ December surge to the playoffs.
With Nelson not getting any younger and this season illustrating he no longer possesses the breakaway speed he once had to take the top off a defense, Adams finds himself in prime position to be Rodgers’ next go-to-guy in the Green Bay offense for years to come.
2015 saw Green Bay try and make Randall Cobb their primary receiver but Cobb failed to live up to the high expectations that came with a monster 2014 season. Cobb has looked much more at home operating from the slot. At 5″10 perhaps Cobb was not built to deal with corners on the outside. But at 6″1 and not afraid to get physical – Adams certainly has the requisite tools.
With crisp route running and an outstanding double move Adams has created constant separation from cornerbacks enabling Rodgers to hit the big play – his most recent one a 66-yard touchdown against Seattle when working on Jeremy Lane. The third year pass catcher has 16 plays of 20 or more yards and four plays of 40 or more and he has only got better as the season has gone one. Adams now gives Mike McCarthy a genuine deep threat who can get open or make catches in tight coverage.
However what stands out on the tape is Adams’ ability to create separation on the short and intermediate routes. Slants, out routes and comebacks have all featured heavily in his route tree and when it comes to moving the chains Rodgers has not been afraid to target his vastly improving receiver. Trust is an essential part of the Green Bay offense with Rodgers at the controls and Adams has earned the trust of the two-time MVP winning quarterback.
A number one receiver has to be able to do everything and the 23-year-old is certainly showcasing his ability to do that. Able to slip by corners playing press with his quick hips on double moves and getting out of his breaks quickly on short routes, enabling Rodgers to move the chains, are all synonymous with 2014 Jordy Nelson.
Perhaps Adams’ improved stat line comes from Nelson being back in the line up but there is no doubt in his improvement as a route runner and having softer hands. Adams’ average yards per catch have soared up from 9.7 to 14.2 and has already bettered his reception total of last season by 13. Granted the Packers were involved in a lot of shoot-outs in the month of November but it shows the trust Rodgers has with his receiver – a stark contrast to the tail end of the 2015 campaign.
In week seven of this season Adams registered his first 100+ yard receiving game, and a career high 13 catches, since his January coming out party against the Cowboys and has since gone on to register three more century outings.
Nelson will be 32 by the time the 2017 season rolls round and will surely lose another step with age. Adams is showing no signs of slowing down his progress in the Green Bay offense. If the Packers make the playoffs then Adams will have the perfect chance to lay down a marker to be the Packers’ primary pass catcher heading into 2017. It would make for a superb story of triumph for a man on the brink just 12 months ago.