GREEN BAY – Davante Adams was a student before he was a star. Buried in the film room as a redshirt freshman at Fresno State, the future Packers receiver would run cut-ups of his favorite wideouts on loop until he perfected every route.
Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Stevie Johnson and Santana Moss were Adams' idols back then. Eying every detail, he'd take a technique or two and find ways to blend it into his own game.
At no point during those sessions did it ever dawn on an 18-year-old Adams that someday he might be the source of inspiration for a new generation of receivers.
It wasn't until Adams arrived in Orlando for the Pro Bowl last January that the burgeoning playmaker realized his footage is now running through film rooms across the NFL.
"That's the thing the Pro Bowl let me know, a lot of these guys are watching my film," said Adams in a recent interview. "Their film department put my target tapes up so they could see and figure it out. Even DBs want to watch what I'm doing, so they can learn what it is to influence them to move a certain way and not get beat.
"That's part of the respect factor as you start to (make) Pro Bowls, All-Pro and stuff like that. That's when you starting entering that elite fraternity, I guess you could say."
"A different animal"
Learning is a continuous process for Adams. There are levels to this game and Adams wants to set the standard. The only way to do it is to watch the very best.
The psychology of his position fascinates Adams and every day is an education. Now 25, Adams still pulls up YouTube in his downtime to take notes on how receivers leverage defensive backs in coverage, explode off the line of scrimmage and break off routes downfield to create separation.
Check his tablet. You'll find film of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen, Doug Baldwin and Michael Thomas, with whom Adams has developed a friendship after the two met at the Pro Bowl.
If Adams finds something he likes, he'll drop everything and rep it where he stands. It's almost like building a receiver in "Madden" career mode. Every day is dedicated toward Adams creating "Weapon X," as he terms it.
Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer has trained with Julio Jones and Beckham, and he played in the same division as Brown during his rookie year with Cleveland in 2017. Without hesitation, Kizer puts Adams in that same land of elite.
"He's one of the best in this league," said Kizer of Adams. "Spending some time with Julio and spending some time with Odell – those guys grind. I think Davante falls right into that category with his ability to go up and make plays, and obviously score a bunch of touchdowns. And his ability to lead out on the practice field is second-to-none."
Complacency hasn't been an issue for Adams during his rise. After a record-breaking run in two seasons with Derek Carr at Fresno State, Adams has developed into one of the league's top young receivers with 149 catches for 1,882 yards and an NFL-best 22 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
His drive is mostly internal, but watching the likes of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones had a profound effect on Adams during his first four seasons.
Hard work, determination and an insatiable desire to improve their football IQ bind the four receivers, who have all earned the undying respect of two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"Davante was a different animal when he came in, much like Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones," Rodgers said. "You can kind of tell right away with Davante that he was going to be a player.
"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."
"It doesn't surprise me"
Leadership comes naturally to Adams. Maybe it's his California-cool personality or learning through osmosis behind Cobb and Nelson for four years, but Adams has no problem taking charge.
The young receiver knew his place early on in the receivers' room. Speak when spoken to and step up when called upon. Along the way, there were opportunities for Adams to shepherd younger players every now and then.
A key pupil of Adams' turned out to be former undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison, now entering his third NFL season. Like Adams, Allison came to football late in high school, but his passion for the game has sped up his transition to the pros.
"If Cobb is over there doing something or talking to one of the young guys, Tae was always the next person in line I'd go to and bounce different ideas off him," Allison said. "He's always been that extra vocal guy. This year, he might be more vocal than usual this year, but Tae is Tae. He has his personality. He's expressive out of the field. He's somebody who I learn from because we have a similar game."
This summer, Adams and Cobb have started passing those lessons on to the Packers' young receiving corps, which includes three rookie draft picks in J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.
Adams stays on them. He doesn't want to come off as "anybody's dad" or another coach, but he knows what it's like to go from being the big fish in a small pond to the NFL. If a young guy doesn't finish his route to the end zone in practice, Adams is going to let him hear about it because he cares.
It's no different than the way Cobb and Nelson treated Adams as a rookie second-round pick in 2014.
"I feel 100 percent comfortable," Adams said. "You can go out there and be a great player, but are you making people around you better or are you just making yourself better? That's the best thing for me to go out there and do is pass on what I've learned from Cobb or Jordy to the younger guys."
Fresh off signing a contract extension with the Packers in December, Adams has put together arguably the best training camp of his young NFL career this summer.
In last Thursday's preseason opener against Tennessee, Adams needed only eight offensive snaps to make one of the biggest plays of the night when he hauled in a 48-yard pass from Brett Hundley on the opening offensive drive.
"That's what he does now. That's his game and he does it really well. It doesn't surprise me," said center Corey Linsley, who shared a draft class with Adams in 2014. "It's like watching anybody just growing and progress. I think he's going to have a hell of a year this year."
The best is yet to come
Adams admits it's crazy how far he's come looking back on the last seven years. He took all that raw ability and channeled it into the makings of an elite NFL receiver.
From Head Coach Mike McCarthy's perspective, there may be no better individual in the locker room than Adams to teach young players how to deal with adversity at football's highest level.
An injury-riddled 2015 season had many pundits questioning whether Adams could follow in the footsteps of Nelson and Cobb to be the Packers' next second-round success story. Ultra-confident and headstrong – traits Adams attributes to his parents and upbringing – he never wavered.
Adams went back to the lab after that season and returned a better player.
"He always had confidence. That's something he brought with him when he arrived here," McCarthy said. "It's human nature, when you take as many shots as he did from the outside, you kind of look for support. That's why I was so adamant in supporting him because I always believed in him. Everybody here knew he had it in him.
"What he puts into the game of football outside of his time here, it's top-flight. I'm just so happy for him personally to see him have the success he's had with that second contract. He's a heck of a football player and his best days, frankly, I think are in front of him."
As the production increases, the respect is starting to pour in. This summer, Adams cracked NFL Network's "Top 100" list for the first time this offseason, debuting at No. 45, and he's often referenced as one of the league's top young receivers.
Adams views success and failure in a similar light. To him, it's all the same. Whatever happens, his eyes are set firmly on the future. The first four years have been great, but that's the past.
It's Year 5 and Adams is ready to prove himself all over again.
"It's starting to come in a little bit more," said Adams with a smile when asked about getting respect. "I feel like people still don't want to fully admit it half the time because I'm not in it to be a celebrity. I want to be the best football player I can be and help my team win a championship ultimately.
"I don't have any extra stuff going on outside of football – it's all in the locker room and all on the field. I'm just getting started, too. I'm going into Year 5, but at the same time, it's early. We have a lot more time to keep proving it to them."