Davante Adams redshirted his first year at Fresno State. He wasn't expecting the same luxury in the pros.
At least not in Green Bay, where second-round picks don't watch. They play early and often. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all got on the field for the Packers in one capacity or another in their rookie seasons.
You could make a case that the Packers didn't get Cobb on the field enough in 2011, but a stacked receiving corps and tight end Jermichael Finley gave Aaron Rodgers an abundance of weapons during a season in which the offense averaged 35 points and more than 400 yards per game.
Those proven resources have been gradually depleted over the years. Donald Driver retired, Jennings and former third-round pick James Jones signed elsewhere and Finley sustained a career-threatening neck injury.
When the Packers drafted Adams in May, the team and quarterback Aaron Rodgers made it clear they expected him to contribute immediately.
"You're not going to draft somebody in the second round for them to sit on the backburner; they're expecting you to come in and contribute right away," Adams said Wednesday. "If they have confidence in me to bring me in here and the type of receivers they have, especially the type of receivers they've gotten in the second round – that means a lot to me. I have to go out there and prove to them and show the world why they brought me here."
The Packers still are deeper than they were in Jennings' rookie season in 2006, but Jarrett Boykin's groin injury has positioned Adams to run away with the No. 3 receiver's job. Given how much coach Mike McCarthy operates in a zebra package (three receivers and a tight end), it's practically a starting job.
Behind Adams, the Packers have two former seventh-round picks on the depth chart in rookie Jeff Janis and Kevin Dorsey, with Dorsey promoted to the practice squad this week because Boykin is unlikely to play against Miami this Sunday.
There's a good chance both Janis and Dorsey will be active against the Dolphins, but they likely will be used more on special teams than having a consistent role on offense. That work mostly has been reserved for the 21-year-old Adams, who has 10 catches on 17 targets for 90 yards this season.
Adams had only one catch for 11 yards in last week's 42-10 beatdown of the Minnesota Vikings, but it came on his first NFL touchdown. It was also Rodgers' 200th career touchdown pass.
"Davante, he's open on film a lot," Rodgers said. "He's run a lot of good routes. He only had one catch last week, but as long as he stays confident and keeps making plays like he is in practice, the ball is going to keep coming his way."
Adams, who was quite productive with quarterback Derek Carr during his two seasons at Fresno State, has played 160 offensive plays this season (54.1 percent), but has been closer to 80 percent in the two weeks Boykin has missed.
According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson played 527 snaps during his rookie season with 33 catches, 366 yards and two touchdowns. Cobb saw nearly half those snaps (290), but still managed 25 catches for 375 yards and a touchdown plus his contributions in the return game.
At the moment, the Packers' offense is running through both players. Nelson and Cobb have combined for 798 of Rodgers' 1,155 passing yards this season (69.1 percent).
"It's definitely different," Nelson said. "A lot of young guys that we're still trying to teach and get them caught up to speed on all the ins and outs that all the guys you mentioned before that knew it. They knew all the ins and outs and were on the same page as Aaron.
"It is different. It is a younger group, but they bring good energy to the room and the practice field and it's exciting to see them develop and what they're going to do."
General manager Ted Thompson has hit on more receivers than any other position on the roster despite never investing a first-round pick into the position. That tradition means something to Adams.
Traditionally, receivers make their biggest jump after their rookie season, but Adams doesn't want to wait. With opportunity ripe as it's ever been in Green Bay, the 21-year-old rookie looks to seize it.
"Of course, I'm a rookie in the books, but at the same time you can't make those rookie mistakes being a pro here," Adams said. "You have to live up to a certain level of play that everyone has been doing around here for a long time. Jordy and Randall both came in making statements early, so I feel like why can't I?"
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