GREEN BAY – As players returned this week for the start of the Packers’ offseason program, Davante Adams quickly took notice of his new surroundings at Lambeau Field.
It wasn’t just the new murals adorning the walls around the facility or the fresh arrangement of lighting fixtures that have brightened the pathway to meeting rooms.
It’s also the absence of veteran Randall Cobb, whose departure comes one year after Jordy Nelson and three years after James Jones’ final season in Green Bay.
Adams, a little brother of sorts to all three, is now the most experienced receiver in the Packers’ locker room and it’s not even close. A veteran of 80 career games (including playoffs), Adams has nearly as much NFL experience as the rest of the Packers’ receiving corps combined.
Yet, it isn’t foreign territory for the two-time Pro Bowl receiver who came within one catch last year of matching the franchise’s all-time record for receptions in a single season.
Quietly, Adams has been readying himself for this role for years.
“Nothing is going to change for me really other than I just need to put a little more on my plate as far as leadership,” Adams said. “I felt like the past few years I’ve really taken on that role and put as much on my plate as I can. The guys look up to me a lot, so (I’ll) just continue to lead by example.”
Not one to call much attention to himself, Adams jumped into the spotlight in 2018 with 111 catches for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had a shot at breaking both the Packers’ single-season marks for catches and receiving yards had it not been for a knee injury that sidelined him in the finale against Detroit.
The 26-year-old receiver was remarkably consistent in his rise to the level of the elite. He had at least five catches in all 15 games last season and scored at least once in 11 contests.
As defenses began to concentrate more on Adams, the Packers started moving him around more last season. He racked up 27 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.
With a vacancy in the slot after Cobb left for Dallas, Adams says he’s more than happy to help fill that inside void again if called upon in new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense.
“I think that's something that Matt is definitely looking forward to having me do, and I'm definitely looking forward to doing the same thing,” Adams said. “I think the versatility is putting these defenses in a bind as far as coverages they can play and guys they can match with. Not everyone is going to want to put a certain (defender), may not want to travel so-and-so with me inside.
“If that will take their No. 1 off me, and I can get some mismatches maybe on the ’backer or the safety, I think that is beneficial.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw to Adams at a prodigious rate in 2018. His 169 targets were second only to Atlanta’s Julio Jones (170), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
While Adams would happily accept another 169 targets in 2019 – “I’m not going to tell him don’t throw it” – he also understands how it helps Rodgers and the offense to get more individuals involved.
One player Adams is looking forward to getting back is fourth-year receiver Geronimo Allison, who had 19 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns in September before a core muscle injury ended his season after five games.
Injuries to both Cobb and Allison pushed rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore up the depth chart, and led to first-year receiver Jake Kumerow seeing action in December.
Adams has been pleased with what he’s seen from all four returning guys, several of whom reached out over the past few months to tell him how seriously they were approaching the offseason.
“The attention to detail is there, which is the biggest thing,” Adams said. “Last year they came in kind of wide-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to go, but it was a lot being thrown at them, a new offense. It’s a new offense now, but kind of understanding the flow, knowing how to be a pro at this point, and get through a season, they’ve got all that behind them.”
Adams has stayed busy in his own right. Taking a “vicious” approach to the offseason, Adams wants to cement his name among the top receivers in the league and he’s working his way there.
In a Q&A with fans on Twitter earlier this week, New England All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore credited Adams with “the best release” in the league in response to a question about who is the toughest receiver to defend at the line of scrimmage.
Rodgers, who has thrown to five Pro Bowl receivers in his career, told ESPN Wisconsin Tuesday Adams is a “different type of guy than we’ve ever had,” touting his leadership in the locker room and athleticism on the field.
Adams redirects the praise to the future, saying he wants to “elevate” his own play and that of his fellow receivers. He brings it back to his first NFL season in 2014, watching Nelson finish catches to the end zone during training camp.
The vision is new with LaFleur in charge, but Adams is optimistic about what he and the offense could accomplish in 2019.
“I like where this thing is headed,” Adams said. “I like his mindset and things mapped out for this offense. It’s going to be a lot of different ways to use guys. I think everybody is pretty excited right now.”