Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Davante Adams will never forget the time Aaron Rodgers essentially kicked him off the field.
He can smile about it now — now that he’s Rodgers’ favorite target. But at the time during Adams’ rookie year, a few weeks into the 2014 season, it served as a wake-up call. As Adams remembered it, he either ran the wrong route or failed to adjust his route properly and Rodgers signaled toward the Packers’ bench to take Adams off the field.
“Yeah, pretty much that was his thought,” Adams said this week.
And Adams can admit now, he didn’t blame Rodgers.
“I never took anything [personal] since I’ve been here,” Adams said. “Because at the end of the day all you’ve got to do is look at what he’s accomplished and the level he plays and carries himself, it just makes you think, ‘OK, he just wants me to be on the same level or close to that.'”
That’s where Adams stands now — as Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver and as one of the NFL’s top players.
No one in the league has more touchdown catches than Adams’ 22 over the past two seasons combined. Not Antonio Brown (with 21). Not Jordy Nelson (20). Not DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Evans (17 each).
The missing 3 yards
The only thing Adams hasn’t done from a statistical standpoint is post a 1,000-yard season. He came up 3 yards short in 2016 and probably would have reached that mark last season if not for getting knocked out twice by illegal hits that led to concussion. He had 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games last year but did not play the last two weeks after Carolina’s Thomas Davis knocked him out. Adams actually cleared the concussion protocol in the same day (Dec. 29) he signed his five-year, $58 million contract but the Packers held him out of what was a meaningless regular-season finale.
That 1,000-yard mark, however, is not what drives Adams.
“If we want to make a list of 1,000-yard receivers, we could make a list of those, not who’s the best,” Adams said. “Plus it’s just ridiculous because I had 997, so what are we talking about?”
There’s another list Adams believes he should be on.
“Top-five, top-10 receivers and things like that,” Adams said. “My name comes up in some of those conversations, but it’s not unanimous.
“I still don’t have the big-picture respect that I feel like I deserve, but at the same time that’s the fuel that continues to drive me so it’s not like it’s really an issue that I’m not being recognized. But that’s what keeps me going.”
The fork in his road
Inconsistency marked Adams’ rookie season.
He caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, numbers not unlike (and in some cases better than) what Nelson, Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings and James Jones put up as Packers rookies.
The following spring, coach Mike McCarthy dubbed Adams as the Packers’ “MVP of the offseason.” That didn’t translate to the 2015 regular season, perhaps in part because of an early-season ankle injury that inhibited Adams’ ability to do what he does best — beat cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage. And it came at a time when the Packers needed him after Nelson’s preseason ACL tear.
Adams faced questions about whether big games from his rookie year — the six catches for 121 yards against the Patriots and the seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over the Cowboys — were flukes. And fans jeered him during the injury-filled 2015 season when he caught 50 passes for just 483 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s the adversity he went through that makes him so great,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I’ve commended him from when he had his s–t that he went through, there was a fork in the road. He could have went one of two ways. He could’ve been a s–tbird — just a talent who couldn’t pick it up — or he could go the other direction. And he decided, ‘I’m not going to let you guys or anyone else write my story.'”
When Adams was presented with that quote as he stood in the corner of the Packers’ locker room, just a few steps from where Bakhtiari changes, he didn’t hesitate when asked for a reply.
“I feel like you guys have asked it in different ways but at the end of the day it was never a matter of me not being a good player or I slacked off in the offseason and came in bulls—ting or something like that,” Adams said. “I didn’t play the way I wanted to based on an injury, but during the season I’m not going to say that. People don’t care. But when you have a lingering ankle all year and then you tear your ACL in the playoff when it’s my coming out (party) — which was a late coming out game, I admit — but those are the things right there.”
However his early years are viewed, all that matters now is what his quarterback thinks of him.
“You can kind of tell right away with Davante that he was going to be a player,” Rodgers said. “It was just a matter of that first year and opportunities. The thing that I said then, as I recall, was his attitude was the same in the weeks where he’d only get one or two targets as in the weeks where he had big games, like against New England, like in the Cowboys playoff game. His attitude stayed the same the entire time.
“Now in Years 2 and 3 he was injured a decent amount and didn’t have — especially in ’15 — the numbers that he would have wanted to have. But you cannot teach natural confidence and swag like that. And when you see it, you realize if the guy ever figures it out, he can be a big-time player. And obviously Davante figured it out and has a great attitude, and he’s been a great player for us.”
Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports