GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Only one player in the NFL last season saw the ball thrown his way more often than Davante Adams.
Atlanta’s Julio Jones had 170 targets.
Adams had 169.
While Adams has never been part of the get-me-the-damn-ball generation of receivers, that might not be enough for the quarterback charged with getting him the ball.
“I’d like to throw to Davante more,” Aaron Rodgers said this week following a Green Bay Packers OTA practice that, coincidentally, Adams did not attend. “He’s that open. We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him the ball.”
The question, really, isn’t how much Adams should get the football. He proved last season beyond a reasonable doubt that, with 111 catches for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns, he’s one of the premier receivers in the league. He finally made a Pro Bowl to validate it.
Rather, the issue is whether it’s good for the Packers’ offense -- or any offense, for that matter -- to have one player dominate the football like Adams did last season.
No, the Packers didn’t add a single receiver through veteran free agency or the draft -- and they let Randall Cobb, who signed with the Cowboys, walk. In fact, the only skill-position players they added who handle the football were third-round tight end Jace Sternberger and sixth-round running back Dexter Williams.
So it’s clear that general manager Brian Gutekunst either shares Rodgers’ belief or thinks that the complementary pieces -- led by Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis and the three receivers he drafted last spring (J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown) along with veteran tight end Jimmy Graham -- are enough.
“There’s nothing wrong with having a go-to guy who’s that dynamic and trying to find ways to get him the ball,” Rodgers continued. “I think obviously we need complementary pieces in place.
“I think Marquez has had a fantastic spring and really stepped up as a guy who can be an every-down player, and then I expect a big bounce-back year from Jimmy. He’s healthy, he’s feeling good. This offense I think fits him and his body type, but I’m not going to shy away from throwing the ball to Davante.”
New coach Matt LaFleur’s offense would seem to fit Adams, whose best attribute among many is his ability to get open almost immediately off the line of scrimmage. And without a prototypical slot receiver to fill Cobb’s old role, Adams could move around even more than he did last season, when, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he caught 75 of his 111 passes when lined up outside.
“I think it enhances it and it gives him different means of getting open and the flexibility to move him around in different spots on the field, and that way defenses can’t key on them,” Packers receivers coach Alvis Whitted said. “I think he just has a tremendous skill set as far as being able to get open, the short-area quickness that he has, his football intelligence, just how he can manipulate defenders is really awesome and it’s really refreshing to see him work and be able to do the things that he can do.”
Adams, 26, likes what he has seen of the offense so far.
“It’s inviting a lot less press coverage, but something I’ve been comfortable with is press coverage, so it’s not like it’s taking anything away or adding anything, really,” Adams said earlier this offseason. “It’s going to allow me to get out and get into my routes a lot easier, and if guys want to still move with motions and matching and press from there, it’s just going to take it back to what I’m used to, so at the end of the day I feel like it’s a win-win for the offense.”
Adams’ 169 targets came in 15 games last season. He missed the season finale -- and his chance to set the Packers’ single-season receptions record -- because of a knee injury.
If Rodgers thinks Adams didn’t get the ball enough and if Adams can stay healthy for all 16 games, perhaps the Packers could be looking at what might be their first 200-target receiver. According to Pro Football Reference, Sterling Sharpe was targeted 189 times during his record-setting 1993 season, when he caught 112 passes.
Only two players have been targeted 200 or more times in a season over the past 16 years: Jones with 203 in 2015 and Calvin Johnson with 204 in 2012.
What’s more, Adams has, by most accounts, accepted his role as not only the go-to receiver but as the leader among his position group after losing veterans Cobb and Jordy Nelson over the past two offseasons.
“I think he sets the tone for the group,” LaFleur said. “And I think his energy not only spills over, it spills over to everybody on the offensive side of the ball. He’s got a mentality about him. I love it, man. He is, he’s a dog and he’s a fighter and he elevates the play of everybody around him. So, yeah, any time we can have him out there I know we’re going to be a better offense.”