GREEN BAY — The 2015 season was a test for Davante Adams, a 19-week odyssey during which the Packers receiver battled a litany of injuries that impeded the progress he made as a rookie.
An ankle injury he sustained against Seattle on Sept. 20, 2015, followed Adams the entire season. He couldn’t cut the way he wanted and didn’t explode off the line like he’s used to.
It was frustrating, but it didn’t change how Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers or any of his teammates viewed the young receiver. The Packers knew the ability Adams possessed.
So 2016 has come to the surprise of no one in the Packers’ locker room. On pace for more than 1,000 yards, Adams’ 58 catches, 776 yards and eight touchdowns through 11 games are what the Packers always expected from the former second-round pick.
“Last year he wasn’t healthy,” Rodgers said. “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.
“When you’re healthy, you’re more confident. And when you’re more confident, you make plays like he did in the game on Monday and like he’s been doing most of the season.”
Monday night could be quantified as the best game of Adams’ career. While he didn’t record his most catches or yards, his five receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia were essential to the Packers’ 27-13 victory.
It also reinforced what the Packers have known for so long – Adams can play. He earned separation on all five of his catches and made spectacular grabs on a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 50-yard over-the-shoulder completion in the third.
Adams caught at least one pass on each of the Packers’ five scoring series, including the offense’s two biggest plays of the game.
“I’d like to think that I can get a spark going for the team,” Adams said. “I don’t know if that’s a 100 percent accurate stat, but I like to come out with some energy and get things going. I feel like when me and Aaron click up early, it kind of sets up things for the rest of the game.”
As taxing as last season was, Adams’ resolve always has been ironclad. He spoke confidently about his abilities even when the doubters started creeping in and voicing their opinions.
While the narrative has made an about-face this year, Adams’ tone has stayed the same. He’s no more boisterous than he was a year ago and even more realistic about what his breakout means for the offense.
The reality is the Packers’ passing game is more than one player. It’s Adams. It’s Jordy Nelson. It’s Randall Cobb, Jared Cook and others. The hot hand can change based on the week or opponent.
Asked on Wednesday whether he considers himself a No. 1 receiver, Adams smiled before answering the question with another question.
“What does No. 1 receiver mean when you got Randall, Jordy and myself going out there?” Adams said. “It’s anybody’s day and it could be everybody’s day. We have a common goal and it’s winning in here. We aren’t selfish. We don’t think about numbers.”
However you categorize the Packers’ receivers, Adams’ maturation and Nelson’s return from injury have helped revitalize the Packers’ passing game, which has surged from 25th last season to seventh with 266.7 yards per game.
Coincidentally, Adams’ breakthrough comes on the heels of what he termed a “roller-coaster” offseason. The torn MCL he sustained in Washington in the playoffs forced him to make a lot of changes to his offseason training, limiting his conditioning at the start.
Adams said he had to cram in his running near the end of the offseason, making him a little nervous before training camp since most of his work had been focused on getting back up to speed.
There was no cause for concern. Adams returned to camp healthy and hasn’t missed a beat all season. If anything, last season’s setbacks have forged his patience.
“It gets frustrating but you’ve just got to be mature and look at it as a process. Just be patient,” Adams said. “It’s kind of hard to do when nobody really cares about what’s going on with the body, they just want to see you out there catching balls and running routes full speed. You’ve got to be patient, and it pays off once you’re healthy and you’re able to run around.
“It’s gratifying and makes you feel better about yourself and it makes your teammates feel better about you as well, knowing that you’re resilient and you can come out of something like that.”
Adams said he has noticed defenses playing him differently over the past month, especially when it comes to safeties rolling over the top his coverage in obvious passing situations.
There are different ways the Packers can attack those looks, though. Plus, the offense’s multiple options mean any attention Adams draws exposes another receiver to one-on-one coverage.
That domino effect is something Adams benefitted from as a rookie in 2014 when Nelson and Cobb were having career seasons. Now, he’s happy to reciprocate however possible.
Adams could say “I told you so” about his ability, but he won’t. After the Packers snapped their four-game losing streak on Monday night, Adams is focused on getting the next win.
“I don’t even really think about it,” said Adams of his breakout. “I just keep my head down and just keep trucking through the rest of the season. People show love and things like that and I appreciate all of it, but you’re only as good as that week so you’ve got to make sure that you continue to spoil the fans and the rest of the people out there in the world.”