Davante Adams has stealthily crept his way up to become the dominant player that we just marveled at against the 49ers. It really wasn’t until about the middle of last year that it came to be known league-wide that Davante is one of the best, if not the best, wide outs in the NFL. Packer fans have been truly blessed to watch this hard-working professional attain excellence over the past seven-plus years in Green Bay.
Most of the great NFL receivers come out of college predestined to be future stars. For examples, Tim Brown went 6th overall in 1988, Marvin Harrison went 16th overall in 1996, Larry Fitzgerald was 3rd overall in 2004, Calvin Johnson was 2nd overall in 2007, Julio Jones was 6th overall in 2011, and Mike Evans was chosen 7th overall in 2014.
Adams will never achieve those career heights, if only because it took him five years to achieve his first 1,000-yard reception season, whereas most of these other all-stars were dominating the league by their second or third years. Adams has made himself what he is through sheer determination and dedication.
Davante, out of Freson State and drafted in the middle of Round 2 in 2014, began his rapid ascent in 2018, when he busted out with 111 receptions for 1,386 yards in 15 games. In 2019, he went for 83 and 997 – but in only 12 games. In 2020, he had 115 and 1,374 in fourteen games. He’s been named to the Pro Bowl four consecutive years, but he wasn’t designated an All-Pro until last season.
If he were to continue his pace this season, he’d wind up with 133 catches for 1,648 yards (if it were a 16-game season). Of course, it would take an almost injury-free year, and he’s only had one such season in the last five.
Once upon a time I attributed Davante’s success to his amazing feet, which produce lightning quick acceleration, stopping, and changes of direction. The only comparisons I could come up with were Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham – unlike Davante, both are self-absorbed bad boys, which perhaps is due in part to striving to outduel numerous and bigger defenders. Since I don’t keenly follow the rest of the NFL, I could be missing some others with characteristics similar to Adams.
Antonio Brown, now back in the league and in his twelfth year, is doing well with Tom Brady and the Bucs, He rode his talented feet to completions and pass yardages of 136 and 1,834 (2015), and also to yardages of 1,499 or greater in 2013, 2014, and 2017. Due to personal misconduct problems and suspensions, Antonio only appeared in nine games in 2019 and 2020 combined.
Brown is 5’10” and weighs only 185 pounds. He’s been thrown to in Pittsburgh by Ben Roethlisberger for nine years, and by Tom Brady with the Bucs last year and currently. Brown is now 33 years old. A highlight reel from 2020 reveals a less dynamic player, who had changed his game mostly to being a possession receiver.
Beckham peaked in 2015 and 2016, his second and third seasons, with 96 catches for 1,450 yards and 101 catches for 1,367 yards. He’s now 28 and in his third year in Cleveland, and he’s coming off a season in which he only played in seven games. Beckham is listed as 5’11” and 198 pounds. He’s the king of the one-handed catch. He’s had the good fortune to play with Eli Manning with the Giants and Baker Mayfield with the Browns.
Welker, who played at 30 pounds lighter than Adams, had a marvelous 12-year career, from 2004 to 2015, in which he accumulated receiving yardage of just under 10,000 (Adams is at 6,877). Welker’s best years were from 2007 to 2012, when he was being thrown to by Tom Brady. In that time, he had over 100 catches five out of six years, and gained over 1,300 yards three times, maxing out with 1,569 yards in 2011. Though he hooked up in Denver with Peyton Manning in 2013 and 2014, he was not as productive there as he was in New England.
As for McCaffrey, though he’s listed as a running back, he’s most valuable as a pass receiver. In 2018 he caught 107 passes for 860 yards, and the next year he upped it to 116 catches for 1,005 yards. Christian missed most of last season with ankle and shoulder injuries. In three games this season, he’s typically hauled in 16 passes for 163 yards. At 5’11” and 205 pounds, McCaffrey is smaller than Adams and not as electrifying quick, but he’s still similarly elusive and dedicated to his craft.
I mention these other players in order to speculate what the future might hold for Davante. I think he’ll have a long career, maybe 12 years or more, and he’ll be almost as productive in his early- to mid-30s as he is now at nearly age 29. Much depends on injuries, as all four of these comparators have missed many games on account of them. As we saw on Sunday, game-changing receivers are constant targets for mayhem by defensive backs and linebackers. Of the five, Davante is the biggest, at 6’1” and 215 pounds, and he seems to get a bit more ripped each year.
Much will depend on who will be throwing to him. Wes Welker and Tom Brady had fabulous chemistry in New England, similar to what Aaron and Davante have built up over eight years. After Welker left the Patriots (in a disagreement over money), he was never the same when playing for Denver and Saint Louis.
I can well understand why there is speculation that Adams will follow Rodgers if he goes to another team next season – you can’t achieve the chemistry they have in just a year or so. As Antonio Brown has done, as Adams passes his physical peak, he should be savvy enough to adjust his game slightly in order to remain productive.
Whether Adams’ body can hold up to the pounding he’s taken since he’s emerged as a star, and drawn double-team coverage, is uncertain. Davante gave us a real scare when he took a helmet-to-helmet hit against the 49ers, and I believe he has a previous history of concussion inuries.
Green Bay fans have had the excitement, and privilege, of watching Adams develop into a virtuoso receiver for going on eight years now. Based on early results this season, he might not yet be at the peak of his powers. He’s extraordinarily disciplined and conscientious about his health and training. He could remain one of the NFL’s premier receivers for another four or five years.
I’ve yet to mention his value as a red zone and third down weapon. He’s been a double-digit touchdown receiver four times, topping out with 18 TDs last season. I believe the only two times that number has been exceeded by an NFL receiver has been in 2007 when the Vikings’ Randy Moss went for 23 (surprisingly none came against GB), and in 1987, when Jerry Rice went for 22.
Let’s credit Brian Gutekunst with snuffing out any thoughts of trading his discontented quarterback in mid-contract earlier this year. And let’s sit back and root for the fastest feet in the NFL, a self-made star, a terrific team leader, and the finest receiver to wear the green and gold since the days of the guy considered to be “the first modern receiver,” the great Don Hutson.