Every year, one or two college basketball players try to become the next Antonio Gates, hoping their combination of height and athleticism translates to football.
With South Carolina’s Jerell Adams, a team could get the best of both worlds — a basketball player with ample football experience.
Before becoming a starter at South Carolina — and long before a big Scouting Combine — Adams dreamed about being an NBA star. At Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, S.C., he had a junior season of 19 points and 13 rebounds per game.
“I always wanted to play basketball,” Adams said in October. “Football was just something I did. I wanted to be an NBA All-Star.”
He was good in football, too. As a senior, he played quarterback, tight end, linebacker, defensive end and punter to lead Scott’s Branch to the Division 1A state championship.
Adams had a decision to make. Would he choose football or basketball? His high school coach reminded Adams that 6-foot-5 wings are a dime a dozen in basketball. Athletes of that size are relatively rare in football. Adams followed that advice and turned his focus to football. After one season at Fork Union Military Academy, Adams picked home-state South Carolina. He didn’t put up eye-popping numbers — four catches as a true freshman in 2012, 13 catches as a sophomore and 21 catches as a junior. As a senior, Adams caught 28 passes for 421 yards — an impressive 15.0 yards per catch — with three touchdowns.
Adams was considered a third- or fourth-round pick before the Scouting Combine. He did nothing to hurt his draft stock in Indianapolis. At 6-foot-5 1/8 and 247 pounds, Adams’ 4.64 clocking in the 40-yard dash was by far the best of the nine tight ends who ran — 0.07 seconds faster than South Carolina State’s Temarrick Hemingway and 0.23 seconds faster than Richard Rodgers ran in 2014 before being selected by the Green Bay Packers.
“Adams is a well-put together athlete, evident by his agility performance figures,” wrote longtime NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas. “He shows good initial quickness, agility, balance, explosiveness, timed speed, change-of-direction agility and flexibility, along with excellent stamina, thanks to his years on the basketball court. He is light on his feet for a player his size, showing impressive upper-body flexibility extending for the ball in flight. The thing you notice immediately on film is his explosive initial burst off the snap.”
Adams’ production was hurt on a number of fronts. Coach Steve Spurrier resigned, leaving the program in a state of flux. There was a lack of talent, in general, with the Gamecocks going 3-9, and at quarterback, with three starters.
“It was not as good as I thought it was going to be,” Adams said of his senior-year production. “We struggled with the quarterback situation (and), of course, the coach leaving in the middle of the year. I feel like it could have been a whole lot better than what it was.”
The appeal with Adams isn’t that he’s just a tall, sleek, fleet-fooded receiver. He’s intelligent — Adams was a two-time member of the SEC Honor Roll — and a good blocker, too. In that phase of the game, Thomas said Adams is at his best as an in-line blocker but needs to improve in the second level. Adams spent about 50 percent of his snaps as a hand-on-the-ground tight end. He showed that all-around skill-set at the Senior Bowl.
“A lot of scouts said I had a great week down there,” Adams said. “A lot of coaches said they didn’t think I was as tough as I was, that I could hold a block as long as I could. I felt like I had a great week down there.”
Adams stood out to Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager. As he wrote at SeniorBowl.com, “Jerell has a big upside because of his frame, speed and athletic ability. He is difficult to corral in the red zone and has a chance to really develop over the next 12-18 months.”
To help give him another push before the Scouting Combine, he worked with Anthony Becht, who played 12 seasons as an NFL tight end.
“We worked on one-on-one drills and catching drills. A good bit of stuff,” Adams said. “He helped me out a lot. He told me what to expect from the ball drills, blocking-wise, media-wise. He said it’s a business trip. Don’t go down there relaxed, take care of business and do what you’ve got to do.
In a weak tight end class, Adams might not last until the Packers’ spot late in the third round. With his height and stretch-the-field ability, he could fill a major void on the Packers’ offense and provide quite a tandem with Rodgers, whose excellent hands are diminished by a lack of athleticism.
“I feel like I’m a great teammate, a great leader, very coachable,” he said. “I just play hard, give it 100 percent in everything I do.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.