How Packers star Davante Adams was overlooked in 2014 NFL Draft after record-setting college career

Davante Adams is open. On almost every pass play the Packers run, that’s true. Even when Adams looks covered, his leaping ability and ball skills mean that if Aaron Rodgers finds the right angle, yup, Adams is still open. 

Green Bay’s star wide receiver may not be the fastest player in football or the most pure route runner, but when it comes down to it, he’s producing as well as any wideout in football in 2020. Entering a Week 9 matchup with the 49ers, Adams is just behind DeAndre Hopkins in receiving yards per game at 100.4. Adams is tied for first in touchdowns (seven), despite playing in only five of Green Bay’s seven games due to an early-season injury.

The argument of “Who’s the best?” in any topic often comes down to semantics — whether it’s a discussion of pure talent or production or some mixture of both. There are wide receivers whose skillsets jump off the page more than Adams, including the rising superstar that is DK Metcalf. But Adams has made his case in 2020 as the most productive wideout in the NFL.

That wasn’t a sure thing when Adams had limited Division I choices outside of his home state of California, and it wasn’t even a sure thing after Adams shattered records at Fresno State. Eight wide receivers were taken ahead of Adams in 2014, and those eight teams would probably like a mulligan. 

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Where did Davante Adams go to college?

Adams shone at Palo Alto High School in California before enrolling at Fresno State. It wasn’t as if no one noticed Adams — a two-star wide receiver, he also had interest California, San Diego State and Hawai’i. But despite a senior year with more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while winning a state championship, Adams couldn’t garner interest outside of the relatively local Division I schools). Adams was a two-star basketball recruit, as well, but he chose football.

The college years didn’t last as long for Adams as they do for most football players prior to the NFL. He redshirted in 2011 (which was current Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s first full season as a starter for the Bulldogs). Then in 2012 and 2013, Adams and Carr tore up the Mountain West. 

As a redshirt freshman, Adams caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns. All those numbers had wide gaps to the next closest player in the MWC, and Adams was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year. As an intelligent route-runner combined with a basketball-influenced skillset, the 6-2 Adams was near unguardable.

“He plays like a guy who’s 6-5, because he goes up and gets the ball,” Fresno State assistant coach Ron Antoine told Sporting News in 2015. “He was a really good basketball player, where he developed timing and confidence to rebound and catch the ball with his hands.”

In 2013, Adams led the nation in receptions (131) en route to setting a number of Fresno State records. His 1,645 yards were most in Bulldogs history, and his 24 receiving touchdowns were a Mountain West record and eight more than any player in the country. Having spent his three years in college and had two historic seasons, Adams didn’t have anything else to prove in Fresno.

When was Davante Adams drafted?

The Packers selected Adams with a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, making him the 53rd overall pick. His huge numbers at Fresno State were eye-catching, but they came at a non-Power 5 school against conceptually weaker competition. 

Eight wide receivers were taken ahead of Adams in 2014: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews and Paul Richardson.

Pre-draft analysis of Adams often pointed to his collegiate production as the biggest pro for taking him. But because he wasn’t actually 6-5 and only ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash, Adams wasn’t viewed as a sure thing to carry that production over to the NFL. Bleacher Report’s breakdown of Adams used a variation of the word “inconsistent” three times to describe negatives about Adams’ game. 

Adams was the first wideout off the draft board from a non-major school. That Bleacher Report analysis suggested in its summary that Adams wouldn’t make a major impact as he adjusted from a dominant athlete against lesser players to an average athlete in a league full of them. Green Bay was in a situation at the time where it didn’t need Adams to star right away, though, which might’ve made him a more intriguing long-term pick. The Packers already had Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb established at receiver. 

If there was one person confident in Adams’ abilities before the draft, though, it was Adams himself. In an official NFL Network segment before the draft, Adams summed up his ability with this: “I’m the best receiver in the draft.” 

How Davante Adams became Aaron Rodgers’ top target

When Adams’ Fresno State position coach Antoine spoke with Sporting News in 2015, he recognized what a nice transition Adams had in being drafted by the Packers — it allowed him to go from a future NFL quarterback in Carr to a future Hall of Famer in Rodgers.

“He’s been lucky to go from Derek Carr to Aaron Rodgers to have that great accuracy and efficiency follow him,” Antoine said in 2015. “He has another QB who works hard at the game and to get the timing down with him.”

Adams was eased in as a rookie, catching 38-of-66 targets. When Nelson missed the 2015 season, Adams rose to 94 targets in year two. Two years later, with Cobb and Nelson both on the roster still, Adams had leaped them in the pecking order and was leading Green Bay in targets.

Since, Cobb and Nelson have both moved on, but Adams has remained, seeing consistent looks from Rodgers week-to-week.

“It got to the point where I’d be in the huddle with Aaron and just voluntarily tell him, ‘I think this will work,’” Adams told Madison.com earlier this season. “That’s when I started really knowing we were getting to a special point in our career and our relationship — where he would just tell me, ‘All right, run that route, whatever you think you can run.’ That’s how that trust is built up and that’s what’s gotten us to the point we’re at now.”

Rodgers was a California kid himself, and another talented player who may have slid in the draft too far. Now, the Rodgers-Adams pairing might be the most dangerous in football, despite the fact that the Packers’ other weapons aren’t inciting tons of fear in opposing defenses. 

When Bleacher Report analyzed Adams before the 2014 draft, it did include this line: “Adams comes across as an intelligent player, so don’t bet against him.” It’s a good thing the Packers didn’t.

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