Last year, fans wanted him benched.
This summer, fans wanted him released.
The “him” is Davante Adams. And the Packers never lost faith in their second-round pick from 2014.
“You can see why, right?” coach Mike McCarthy said this week.
No doubt about that. It’s come a year later than expected, but he’s the Packers’ breakout star this season.
Adams infamously was hailed as the Packers’ offseason MVP last summer. However, his second season was ruined by a Week 2 ankle injury. He finished with 50 receptions for 483 yards and one touchdown. Over the previous 13 seasons, he was the only wide receiver in the NFL to catch at least 50 passes with an average of 9.7 yards or less and a catch rate of 54 percent or worse. Only three receivers during that span averaged less than Adams’ 5.14 yards per target. The fans clamored for more of Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis.
“It gets frustrating but you’ve just got to be mature and look at it as a process. Just be patient,” Adams said. “It’s kind of hard to do when nobody really cares about what’s going on with the body. They just want to see you out there catching balls and running routes full speed. You’ve got to be patient, and it pays off once you’re healthy and you’re able to run around. It’s gratifying and makes you feel better about yourself and it makes your teammates feel better about you as well knowing that you’re resilient and you can come out of something like that.”
Despite the struggles of Adams, in particular, and the offense, in general, McCarthy kept putting Adams on the field. And Rodgers kept throwing him the ball. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has talked countless times over the years about trust. If he doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get the ball. That trust in Adams never wavered. Even that infamous home game against Detroit last year, when Adams caught 10-of-21 passes for just 79 yards, didn’t change Rodgers’ belief.
“He was dealing with a serious injury for a receiver of his ability and skill-set,” Rodgers said. “You watch him in the games, and you guys see it from your vantage point on TV or on the replays, he’s so good at the line of scrimmage and he’s got that quick-twitch ability. If you don’t have two solid feet and ankles, knees in the ground, you’re going to have a problem for a guy like Davante, not being able to do the quick-twitch stuff that he’s so good at.”
What a difference a healthy ankle makes. Adams has been tremendous. After catching 15-of-27 passers (55.6 percent) with no gains of 30-plus yards in the first five games, Adams has caught 43-of-59 (72.9 percent) in the last six games. He’s had at least a 37-yard gain in each of the last four games.
“I never lost faith in him at all because he gets open a lot,” Rodgers said. “He’s obviously earned a lot of my trust this year, and he’s playing very confidently. We love the way that he’s playing right now.”
Adams put on a dazzling display against the Eagles last week. A crisp slant turned into the opening touchdown when he used his speed and strength to blast into the end zone through two defenders. The second touchdown was equal parts athleticism and savvy. Adams got open and didn’t tip his hand to cornerback Nolan Carroll, using what he called a “late-hands” technique to position his hands just a split-second before the ball arrived. To start the third quarter, he got deep again for a gain of 50. He won that route in the first few yards. It was something he couldn’t have done while laboring through the ankle injury last year.
“A lot of it is knowing that I’m healthy and not having to worry about the pain of when I stick this foot down how it’s going to feel,” he said. “I can just play and be free. I’m able to just go out there and not worry about how my body is going to react to different movements. I’m able to just play fast and that’s when the production comes.”
Remember those awful numbers from last season? Check these out: Of the 55 wide receivers with at least 20 catches over their past six games, Adams ranks second in receptions (behind only Larry Fitzgerald’s 47), third in yards (behind Julio Jones’ 623 and Mike Evans’ 571), third in touchdowns (behind Odell Beckham’s seven and Evans’ 6), 16th in catch percentage (72.9) and 10th in yards per target (9.45).
“I’ve shown them a lot since I’ve been here, and they know what I’m capable of,” Adams said. “A down few games or whatever, that kind of shaped the way people were viewing my abilities. It’s not going to be the same for them because they see what I do day in and day out. They know the attention to detail I have and the focus that I have in improving my craft. I’m real serious about my job. I knew I had to come in this year and give it my all and come out swinging.”