During the 2014 season, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams didn't fill up the stat sheet like fellow rookie receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins. But despite the limited numbers (38 receptions, 446 yards, three touchdowns), he showed that the talent level is there.
Adams can play, he's a fit for the Packers' offensive scheme, and the arrow is definitely pointing upward as he enters his second year in the NFL.
This offseason, Adams has drawn high praise from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his athletic ability, study habits and overall development. This is a guy who has the size (6'1", 212 pounds), leaping ability and playmaking skills to produce after the catch.
Add that to the favorable matchups Adams is going to draw when lining up alongside Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in the Packers' three-wide receiver personnel, and I see a player who is primed to have a breakout season in 2015.
In 2014, Adams didn't produce on a consistent basis, and it was clear that his route tree was limited coming out of Fresno State. However, there are situations on the tape that highlight his natural ability to win on the release, finish on inside breaking cuts and turn a basic three-step route into a positive play.
Adams' acceleration at the top of the route is impressive. He's quick coming out of his breaks for a long-strider, and that allows him to separate on the slant, underneath smash route or the intermediate dig.
Plus, he has shown the footwork to get off the line against press coverage. Whether that is a slight stutter move off the ball or a "hop" release (slow play the release), Adams can win one-on-one matchups and use his frame to finish at the point of attack.
While Adams doesn't have top-tier long speed (4.56 40 time coming out of college), he does show the change-of-direction ability to cut down angles in the open field, and I think he will develop as a deep-ball route-runner working with Rodgers. That includes hitting the top of the route tree out in the field and also climbing the ladder on the fade or back-shoulder fade deep in the red zone.
In the Packers system—which I would call an uptempo, hybrid version of the old-school West Coast offense—McCarthy can use personnel and alignment with Adams to expose zone coverages like we saw versus the Panthers during 2014.
This is the "sucker" route, with Adams aligned at No. 1 out of a "Dakota" formation (tight end aligned as backside X receiver; trips to the open side).
In this route combo, the Packers will expose the Panthers' Cover 2 defense with Jordy Nelson (No. 3) on the clear-out seam route (removes the Mike 'backer) and Randall Cobb (No. 2) on the short, inside curl (occupies the nickelback). This allows Adams to run the intermediate dig route with the two deep half safeties over the top and the middle of the field open.
Rodgers can deliver this ball to Adams once the nickelback squats on Cobb underneath as he runs the curl route. That creates open field for Adams to make the catch, push the ball up the field and get into the end zone for six points.
Now, let's take a look at the release on the three-step game (slant, hitch, smash) from the Eagles-Packers matchup, with the ball just outside the 5-yard line.
With the Eagles showing Cover 1 (man-free), Adams aligns outside the numbers to the backside of a 3x1 formation (Doubles Slot) and draws cornerback Bradley Fletcher for his matchup.
Here's the "hop" release, with Adams slow-playing the stem. This forces Fletcher to open from his square stance and then take a bucket step (step behind) once Adams snaps this route off on the inside break. Win at the break, pin the defensive back to the outside and give Rodgers a clear target on the slant to deliver the ball for a score.
Adams is a solid option on those three- and five-step routes in the Packers playbook, despite some of the inconsistent play during his rookie season when he would fail to produce.
First, let's look at the New England game.
Bill Belichick's team played true matchups against the Packers, and that allowed Adams to work against both Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard in one-on-one situations.
The result? Adams finished with 121 yards on six grabs while running the inside cuts and quick double-moves, and he produced an explosive play when Rodgers bought time for the wide receiver to convert his route down the field.
This is going to happen when you want to man-up Green Bay and let your cornerbacks "travel" to match Nelson and Cobb. You'd better have some real depth at cornerback to put your No. 3 on Adams both inside and outside the numbers.
Here's an example of the double-move versus Ryan (out and up) from a stack alignment that gave Adams a free release off the ball.
Sell the out (with speed), force the cornerback to get lazy with his eyes (stick his eyes on the quarterback) and then accelerate up the field. This is where Adams showed he could separate from the coverage and go track the ball on a perfect toss from Rodgers down the field.
After Adams went to work on Ryan, the Patriots switched things up and threw Dennard at him, but the rookie continued to produce. Check out Adams on the inside slant, with Dennard walked up in coverage.
This is how you run a slant at the pro level. Adams uses a quick vertical stem and a quick shake/stutter at the break point to freeze Dennard and forces him to stop his feet while Adams establishes inside leverage and creates a throwing lane for Rodgers.
The cornerback never even got a hand on Adams and would've been better off playing off-man in this situation.
During the divisional playoff game against the Cowboys, Adams displayed his strength and ability after the catch in crucial situations. These were base routes (hitch and dig) that produced explosive plays as Adams finished with 117 yards and a score on seven receptions when working against cornerback Sterling Moore.
Let's start with the dig route versus 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), where Adams beat Moore on the release and then won to the inside to set up an opportunity to beat the safety in the open field.
With Moore using a trail technique in 2-Man, he tries to undercut the route, but this is a ridiculous throw from Rodgers to beat the cornerback. That allows Adams to go to work on the safety, J.J. Wilcox, after the catch.
This is pretty smooth from Adams, as he sets up Wilcox in the open field with the hesitation move and then the cut back to the outside. That leaves Wilcox frozen and Adams takes it to the end zone.
Late in this game, with the Packers needing to close it out on a third-down situation, Adams ran a hitch (or almost a fade stop) versus Moore to move the sticks and pick up more yards after the catch.
This is where we see Adams' strength at the point of attack to pull this ball in and then toss Moore to the ground. Grown-man football right there, plus the production in the open field.
These were two big-time plays from the rookie on the postseason stage, and they came on base routes. However, it's this type of ability after the catch that fits with the Green Bay system. Get the ball out and let the skill guys produce.
With the majority of second-year pros, we expect the numbers and the overall production on the field to increase because the game begins to slow down. That allows these guys to process information quicker, recognize schemes and play a much faster brand of football because they trust their technique.
In short, they have some experience and the tape to self-scout in the offseason and are much more comfortable within the playbook and game plan.
Asked recently by Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel what's changed heading into his second season, Adams laughed and said, "Everything."
He might not have the numbers of an Odell Beckham Jr. this upcoming season, given the Packers' balanced play-calling on offense and the overall talent at the wide receiver position in Green Bay. But Adams will continue to draw more favorable matchups in lining up with Nelson and Cobb in 2015, and that should create opportunities to produce quality tape in a system where he can produce big plays.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.