Even high draft picks such as Green Bay Packers second-rounder Davante Adams have to buck long odds to make much of a difference as an NFL rookie receiver.
From the big-picture view, the statistics for a rookie at that position are noteworthy for what they don't produce. Since 2000, NFL teams have selected 117 receivers in the first and second rounds combined. Only 11 of them caught at least 60 passes as a rookie and only four caught at least 70.
Looking specifically at the Packers, the story is similar, and actually worse.
Greg Jennings joined a receiver-needy roster as a second-round pick in 2006, and though he was an advanced route-runner coming out of college, he still accrued only a modest 45 receptions in 14 games as a rookie.
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Jordy Nelson, an early second-round pick in '08, had only 33 receptions his first year. Randall Cobb (second round '11) had 25; Javon Walker (first round '02) had 23; and second-rounders Terrence Murphy (five receptions in '05) and Robert Ferguson (none in '01) were non-entities, though a neck injury ended Murphy's career early his rookie season, and a quad injury slowed Ferguson early that year.
Even Sterling Sharpe, the No. 7 pick overall in the 1988 draft, caught a quiet 55 passes his first season for a receivers-poor Packers team.
This year, Adams joins a Packers offense that's set for its top two receivers (Nelson and Cobb) but still needs immediate playmaking help after losing Jennings and James Jones to free agency the past two offseasons, and very possibly talented tight end Jermichael Finley to a neck injury this year.
As a highly regarded second-round pick, Adams is the Packers' best hope to replace some of the lost juice, and he'll get every chance to win the No. 3 job, which would mean substantial playing time. But the league's and Packers' histories suggest it's far from a given he'll beat out third-year pro Jarrett Boykin for the job.
"I don't know about immediately, but we need (the rookie receivers) to develop," Nelson said. "At some point in time this year, they're going to have an impact in a game — good or bad. They need to be prepared to go in there."
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When asked why rookie receivers historically struggle in the NFL, Nelson pointed to the time it takes to develop chemistry with and trust of a quarterback. He said it wasn't until his third training camp that he could hear a play call and know his assignment without thinking, which allowed him to concentrate solely on how he was going to beat the man across from him.
"Running back, you read the line and you go. They've done that forever," Nelson said. "(At receiver) you can run the route, but you have to be where the quarterback wants you to be. The quarterback has to have confidence in you.
"When you step in and haven't made plays, they're not going to look to go to you when they have a couple veteran receivers they're used to throwing to. They have to make sure that you know what you're doing and you're going to do it correctly, and that you're going to make a play before they really rely on you."
Adams was the ninth receiver picked in this year's draft at No. 53 overall in what was regarded as the deepest receiver class in years. In only two seasons in Fresno State's spread passing game, he was a pass-catching machine with 233 receptions and 38 touchdowns. He entered this year's draft at age 21 and after his redshirt sophomore season.
The Packers have had only a limited look at Adams so far this offseason — of their four full-team practices this offseason, Adams has been to only two. He missed two practices last week because he had to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles, which is part of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. The players union picks the 30-plus players, and attendance is mandatory.
It's primarily a promotional appearance for sponsors of NFL Players Inc., where the players sign autographs and pose for their playing-card photos, though the union also brought in three speakers to talk to the players about their careers. Adams said the union picked him because it wanted most of the top offensive skill-position players to attend.
"Obviously I'd have loved to be here," Adams said, "but I stayed up with my playbook and everything."
Adams' first full-team practice in front of reporters Tuesday — the three weeks of organized team activities practices are open to the public and media only once week — was uneventful. He had at least one catch in team drills but didn't make any standout plays.
"Just getting where I fit in right now," Adams said. "As I go along and learn more and get more chemistry with the wideouts and (quarterback) Aaron (Rodgers), the more confidence I put in them that I'm going to make plays and know what to do out there.
"All that other rookie stuff, them not making plays, that has nothing to do with me. I'm not going into it like if I don't do this it's because I'm a rookie. There's no excuse. They brought me here to make plays, and do something, and that's what I intend to do."
Adams has good size for a receiver at 211 pounds — he's listed at 215 but said he's 211 this week. For a top prospect, his 40-yard dash time of 4.56 seconds was unimpressive, though his 39½-inch vertical jump is excellent.
Even if Adams ends up having a good career, his chances of contributing this season depend on how quickly he advances in the Packers' offense. He doesn't have the kind of speed that stands out in non-contact practices, and his strengths coming out of college are his power attacking the ball and running through tackles after the catch.
"He's not slow," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's fully capable of playing in the NFL. Very strong, he's an excellent route-runner, particularly at the top of his routes. The ability to separate from the defender is the key, and that's one of his strongest traits."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.