GREEN BAY – Before the gold Nikes, "Madden 99 Club" chains and No. 6 ranking in the NFL's Top 100, Davante Adams was a kid from Palo Alto, Calif., bursting with hope and talent.
Hope that the plays he saw in his mind as a teenager would someday manifest themselves on the NFL's biggest stage. Talent that would reveal itself during his journey from a two-star recruit at Fresno State to All-Pro receiver with the Packers.
Stardom has come in stages for Adams, like a series of novels building to its conclusion. The past seven years have seen Adams go from the league's best-kept secret to one of its brightest stars and three-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers' most-trusted target.
Nationally, the flood lights have turned in Adams' direction after a 2020 season in which he set a Packers franchise record with 115 receptions and tied Sterling Sharpe for most receiving touchdowns team history with a league-best 18.
It made Adams the first player in NFL history with 100-plus receptions and 18-plus receiving TDs in the same season – and the top pick among receivers in most 2021 fantasy football leagues.
Today, the football world would appear to be Adams' oyster and yet his perspective on the whole thing hasn't changed from his rookie season, when Adams served as the No. 3 option to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The secret is in its simplicity.
"Like in my mind, that's what people don't understand, this whole time I've been this guy," said Adams on Wednesday. "I've been making these plays mentally so it's not new to me. The way I think about ball, the way I think about life, I'm a pretty consistent dude and pretty simple, too."
Expectations are understandably high for both Adams and the Packers in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver set career highs across the board a year ago, including an eye-popping 1,374 receiving yards in just 14 regular-season games.
While Adams saw 149 targets from Rodgers, he's not the only the weapon in the Packers' offensive arsenal. The Packers also return Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis and several others who contributed to last year's top-scoring offense.
If there was any ingredient missing from the recipe, it was the lack of a true slot receiver and jet-motion runner, especially once Tyler Ervin was placed on injured reserve.
The Packers made a push to plug that gap with the acquisition of Amari Rodgers in the NFL Draft and Cobb in a late July trade. The decision to bring back Cobb not only reunites Adams with one of his biggest mentors, but also gives the offense a versatile playmaker to complement its four-time Pro Bowler's skillset.
"When you have an elite receiver like that, a legitimate, true No. 1, in my eyes the best in the business, you're always going to try and incorporate him and make him a big part of your game plan," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said of Adams, at the beginning of training camp.
"What it does is if teams want to focus on him and take him away, now you've got another guy out there that knows how to create and separate, and you can kind of go in another direction. It just gives the defense one more guy to be concerned about out there."
There has been some outside noise about Adams' future as he enters the final year of his contract, but the 28-year-old receiver remains focused on what's in front of him in 2021.
That started in August, when the Packers chose to sit Adams and most of their veteran starters during the preseason. It's a decision Adams appreciated and believes will give this team its best chance to make good on its championship potential.
"I feel like I had one of the best camps of my career," Adams said. "I was able to really lock in, come back and get reacquainted with my brothers. Me and '12' picked up where we left off. It's just the way that I have found success coming up from all stages of life. Just focusing on that moment."
This Sunday's opener against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville brings back special memories for Adams. It was at TIAA Bank Field in 2016 that he began his breakthrough season, diving to make a 29-yard touchdown catch just before halftime that put the Packers ahead for good in a 27-23 win over the Jaguars.
Now in Year 8, Adams is anything but complacent. There's still a massive carrot out there he's chasing in the form of a Super Bowl title. After coming up short on four occasions in the NFC Championship Game, Adams reiterates how he doesn't "want to leave this game without a ring and hopefully a couple of them."
Predictably, Adams is approaching even more personal milestones. With 50 catches and eight touchdowns in 2021, he'll move into second in franchise history in both categories.
Even as the accolades and recognition pile up, Adams' eyes already are fixed on what's next.
"It like, 'All right, thank you for the kudos and everything but this has been happening, the wheel's been turning up here the whole time,'" Adams said, pointing to his head.
"The positive reinforcement is great, but there's still a lot more out there that I know I can go do. So, when I get those congratulations, it's more like, 'Appreciate it, but just wait till next year.' That's the mindset."