GREEN BAY – There is something Davante Adams believes to be true. Believes it so strongly he can’t — or won’t — contain it.
He is in the midst of a season any receiver would covet. The type of season that moves a receiver into elite company. No matter. Inside, something is biting at him. It has been biting for a while.
“I just want to get the respect that I deserve,” Adams said.
It begs the question: Who doesn’t respect Davante Adams?
He crossed the single-season 1,000-yard mark last week in Minnesota for the first time in his career, though it really wasn’t his first time (more on that later). With five games left, Adams ranks sixth in the NFL with 77 catches, eighth with 1,022 yards and fourth with 10 touchdowns.
Only two other receivers rank in the top eight in all three categories: Minnesota’s Adam Thielen and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas.
When it’s done, Adams’ 2018 season likely will be one of the finest any receiver has had in the Green Bay Packers’ 100-season history. He has a chance to set single-season franchise records in catches, yards and touchdowns. Of the three, Sterling Sharpe’s 18 touchdown receptions in 1994 seem most out of reach. But Adams is on pace for 112 catches, which would tie Sharpe’s franchise record from 1993, and his 1,486-yard pace is certainly within distance of Jordy Nelson’s franchise-record 1,519 yards in 2014.
He has reached 130 yards in four games this season. He has caught a touchdown in all but three games. And each week, it seems, the chip on Adams’ shoulder only grows.
Who doesn’t respect Davante Adams?
“Everybody, man,” Adams shot back when asked Thursday.
How does he figure?
“I feel like if you ask people,” Adams said, “certain people will say that I’m a top receiver. But if you ask people to name their top receivers, they won’t mention me. So that’s where the disrespect is coming from. I don’t think they say, ‘Davante Adams sucks.’ But they think that top five, they put the same celebrities in there every time.”
Irony or not, Thursday was NFL Top 100 day inside the Packers' locker room. It’s an annual spectacle when players are asked to name their top 20 players in the league for a list that eventually expands to 100. They aren’t actually picking their top 20 players, of course. The vast majority treat it as a popularity contest, akin to filling out a high school yearbook.
Adams said he would not put himself in the top five. “I think my boys will handle that,” he noted accurately. In truth, Adams is backing down to no one.
“I do put myself top five,” Adams said. “I think I’m the best receiver in the NFL. I do.”
Before the eye rolling commences, understand Davante Adams is not delusional. He knows his one Pro Bowl appearance last year does not match A.J. Green’s seven, Antonio Brown’s six or Julio Jones’ five. He knows sharing an offense with Aaron Rodgers is a “blessing” that, say, Odell Beckham Jr. does not have receiving passes from 37-year-old Eli Manning.
Adams also knows he’s coming.
“I think I just need to put together a resume that reflects what I’m saying,” he said. “It’s not fair for me at this point to say this, or to stand on the podium and scream out to the world I’m the best, but I feel like I’m the best receiver at this point in my career. Where I’m at with my abilities, I feel like I am the best.
“I just have to continue doing what I’m doing. With that comes more recognition.”
To understand Adams’ abilities, don’t just listen to teammates describe his game. Observe their mannerisms. Randall Cobb shrugs his shoulders, as if there’s nothing to really say. Jake Kumerow, who saw Green up close for three seasons in Cincinnati, stares eyes-wide-open in disbelief.
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“He might not get as much recognition or as much press,” Kumerow said, “but that man does a lot more than people think, and a lot more than people know.”
There is nothing fluky or unexpected about what Adams has done this season. He arrived long ago, even if you didn’t notice. Consider this: Adams had 46 catches, 584 yards and five touchdowns in eight games with Brett Hundley last season. In 2016, Adams finished with 997 yards.
Those nine feet are a particularly sensitive issue. For some, it remains the barrier by which receivers are judged. Adams actually did exceed 1,000 yards in 2016, but an 18-yard catch in the second quarter of that season’s finale at Detroit was nullified by a holding penalty on former receiver Jeff Janis. Adams also had two touchdown catches in a win that clinched the NFC North, but the one catch that wasn’t stays with him.
Instead of finishing with 1,015 yards, Adams ended on 997.
“Three more yards would’ve helped, apparently,” Adams said. “Because that would’ve made me a 1,000-yard receiver. (FOX broadcasters) Joe Buck and Troy Aikman both said they wouldn’t make me an elite receiver yet, because I don’t have a 1,000-yard season.
“Nine feet got in the way.”
Each great receiver has their staple. Jones is an athletic monster. Green is a monster in his own right, not just strong but with a ridiculous catch radius. Beckham Jr. has some of the softest hands ever at the position. Brown’s fundamentals border on perfection.
Adams, too, has his staple. His releases off the line of scrimmage might be unparalleled.
“The most impressive thing I’ve seen him do,” Kumerow said, “it would be his consistency with getting off the ball. No one touches him, and it’s every time. I don’t know if it’s the way he does it or his mindset.
“The quickness, and the quick twitch. The quick, one step. It’s the best in the league.”
Cobb agreed Adams’ releases are special, but he cautioned against forgetting the rest of his game, too. No, Adams isn’t known as the same athletic freak as Jones, but Cobb said his athleticism is astounding. On the practice field, Adams has been known to leap over the heads of unsuspecting teammates, clearing them with ease.
Kumerow said Adams’ ball tracking on deep routes, and especially his hand-eye coordination, reminds him of Green. Both receivers can juggle, Kumerow said. Adams’ hands are so quick, he’s been known to juggle against a wall, while playing catch.
More than anything, what might make Adams great is internal. He collects every slight, not unlike the legendary grudges his future Hall of Fame quarterback holds. Adams still wonders if he isn’t placed in elite company because of his disappointing 2015 season. Even if others have moved on, it clearly still gnaws at him.
Asked this week about facing Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, Adams mentioned he hadn’t faced Peterson since the playoffs in 2015. Then, unprompted, he offered this: “I’d like to say I’m a lot different player than I was in ’15.”
Indeed, he is.
Adams now has his third straight season with double-digit touchdowns, something Jones and Green haven’t done. He’s in the midst of maybe the finest receiving season in Packers history. At age 26, Adams might become the best receiver Rodgers has ever had.
“If you ask people about Antonio Brown,” Adams said, “everybody is going to say top five for sure, if not the best receiver in the league. Julio, same thing. Most people say the same for Odell, but I don’t get that same respect.”
He’d like to change that.