Green Bay — Davante Adams could have said, “I told you so.”
He could have called out the critics, the doubters, the haters.
But that’s not how Green Bay’s third-year wide receiver rolls.
“I don’t even really think about it,” Adams said late in the regular season. “I just keep my head down and just keep trucking.”
And truck he did.
After a rough 2015 season in which Adams was arguably the Packers’ most disappointing player, he rebounded with a terrific 2016 campaign. Now, as the 24-year-old Adams enters his prime years, the Packers could have their new No. 1 wideout for the next five seasons.
Adams finished second on the team in receptions (75) and receiving yards (997). Adams also tied for second in the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions.
Adams then caught 13 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay’s first two postseason games. A bum ankle then slowed Adams in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta.
In all, it was a terrific year for Adams, who seemed a better bet to bust rather than boom 12 months ago.
“The biggest thing for him is his health,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Adams late in the year. “Last year, I’ve said it a bunch to you guys but it’s on purpose, last year he wasn’t healthy, and this year he’s been healthy and he’s playing the way that we projected him to play last year when we said that he was the MVP of training camp and he was coming along and going to be a star.”
Adams flashed star ability late in his rookie season of 2014. Then he had a huge off-season in 2015 and seemed destined for great things — especially after Jordy Nelson was lost for the year that summer.
But an ankle injury slowed Adams throughout the 2015 season and Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 118 out of 119 receivers to play at 25% of their team’s snaps.
This season, Adams was healthy throughout and lived up to his status of a second-round draft pick.
“I always told everybody once I was healthy I was able to produce,” Adams said. “It was just a matter of just the health and obviously getting out on the same page with my quarterback, and we got rolling. He trusts me a lot.”
There’s no disputing that. Rodgers targeted Adams 121 times during the regular season, second only to Nelson’s 152 targets.
And with Adams just entering what should be the best years of his career, his future seems remarkably bright.
“He’s so good at the line of scrimmage and he’s got that quick-twitch ability,” Rodgers said of Adams. “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.
“You’ve seen on the touchdowns, he’s scored on slant routes. Being able to get that separation at the line of scrimmage. You’ve seen it on his releases, vertical releases … that stuff he wasn’t able to do (in 2015) because of his injury – injuries. So I never lost faith in him at all because he gets open a lot.”
Nelson led the NFL with 14 touchdown passes, was fifth in receptions and sixth in total yards (1,257). And last Saturday, Nelson was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Nelson, who turns 32 in May, wasn’t as explosive or dynamic as he was prior to his injury. His average of 13.0 yards per reception was also the third-lowest of the eight seasons he’s played.
But Nelson’s return helped Green Bay jump to seventh in passing offense (262.4) after ranking 25th a year ago (218.9). The Packers also scored 432 points in 2016 after scoring just 368 in 2015.
And after Nelson suffered broken ribs in Green Bay’s playoff opener, he was back on the field for the NFC Championship Game.
“He’s a great player,” Rodgers said of Nelson. “You run out of ways to compliment him because he’s such a good teammate, he does so many things exceptional with his, obviously, route running, his catching the ball his second and third reactions. Just his feel.”
The growth of rookie Geronimo Allison was a pleasant surprise and his role should only increase in upcoming seasons. But Randall Cobb will count $12.75 million against the salary cap and might have to take a pay cut to stay.
Regardless, the Packers’ wideout group looks to be in solid shape for the foreseeable future. The biggest question among Green Bay’s pass catchers comes at tight end, where Jared Cook becomes a free agent in March.
Cook was the Packers’ most dangerous tight end since Jermichael Finley and allowed McCarthy to dust off parts of his playbook that had been in mothballs. In Green Bay’s final six games (including the postseason), Cook had 31 catches for 417 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve talked about it since I got here, the fastest way to the end zone is through the middle of the field,” McCarthy said. “So the bigger target you have going down the field the better it is for your quarterback, particularly more athletic, bigger throwing radius and all of that. Jared Cook has all of those attributes.”
Green Bay could use more speed among its pass catchers. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Trevor Davis ran a 4.42 40-yard dash last spring, but needs to get substantially stronger.
Overall, though, Green Bay’s wideouts and tight ends could be one of the top units in the league again come 2017.
“We made a lot of improvements from last year, no doubt about it,” Adams said. “But I think this group will still get a lot better. I’m excited about it.”
Packer Plus is published 40 times a year by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.