Fantasy Film Room:
By Tyler Arthur
The Green Bay Packers are considered one of the scarier offenses in the league for arguably one reason, Aaron Rodgers. However, there is another player on the roster who teams should be equally scared of. That player is star wide receiver, Davante Adams. No, his name doesn’t cause casual fans to shudder with fear, honestly even the biggest of NFL fans probably do not realise how good he actually is.
There is one demographic, however, who have taken quite the shining to the 26-year-old wideout over the last couple of years – fantasy football fans.
The reason that Adams is becoming a fan favourite wide receiver for fantasy is because he just seems to find the end zone more regularly than everyone else. He scored 13 Touchdowns last year with a half-strength Rodger throwing him the ball, he had 10 scores the previous season and 12 before that. Since earning a prominent role in the offense in 2016, he is averaging 12 receiving TD’s per season.
For context, Antonio Brown is the only receiver who had more last year (15) and breakout seasons from Colts Tight End Eric Ebron (13 last year, previous high of five) and Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill (12 last year, previous high of seven) were in the same ballpark, but can’t compete in terms of consistency. The next in terms of consistent scoring output behind Brown and Davante Adams is Texans superstar DeAndre Hopkins, with 11 receiving touchdowns last season and a career-high 13 the previous year. However, albeit while lacking a QB like Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, from the 2015 season into 2016 he dropped from 11 TD’s to just 4.
Touchdowns can often be dismissed as something that aren’t easy to predict. An example of unpredictable scoring, Julio Jones is an elite wide receiver, but for his near 1700-yard season, he didn’t find the end zone for the first seven weeks last season.
So, it is more than fair to say that having a reliable TD threat isn’t just a case of just having a good receiver. Adams has a real nose for the end zone, and we’re going to look at how he does it.
While receivers can be consistent or inconsistent within themselves, and they can have great seasons followed by subpar performances, their overall production is dictated by many factors. The topic of touchdown regression is one that many fantasy analysts will discuss when going into a new season, and it extends from quarterbacks to receivers and other skill positions.
Touchdown regression can be both positive and negative. Negative regression is an expectation of someone who goes above and beyond, predicting that they will regress back to a more likely average [example – Patrick Mahomes]. Positive regression is when a player who is capable of much better numbers disappoints in a particular statistic, and you can expect them to positively regress to the mean [example – Derek Carr].
Usually, when a wide receiver gets 12 scores it is a big year, and they will be expected to regress, but Davante Adams has shown consistent double-digit scoring, and his quarterback, perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers is actually due for some positive regression.
Rodgers threw just 25 touchdowns last season (yes, Adams scored more than half of them) in his 16 starts, coming off the back of the year in which he broke his collar bone and missed much of the season, but don’t forget how good he really is.
In the nine seasons where Rodgers started at least 15 games, he averages 34 passing touchdowns, and the 2018 season was actually his lowest ever.
So, let’s round up all of this context: Davante Adams consistently finds the end zone. Aaron Rodgers is likely to throw more touchdowns this year. Aaron Rodgers throws touchdowns to Davante Adams more than anyone else.
Is it safe to say that Adams can be relied on to put up 10+ scores for the fourth year in a row? I think it is.
Davante Adams Film Review
There are multiple things which convince me that Davante Adams is a reliable Touchdown scorer, and an elite red-zone target. These things are all very much linked, be it his rapport with Rodgers, his ability to get open, his ability to make men miss after the catch etc.
The thing that can make a receiver vulnerable to unpredictable and non-repeatable touchdown production is them scoring in ways which are unpredictable and non-repeatable. You need to think about how they score touchdowns.
Tyreek Hill can score a touchdown when 70 yards away from the end zone and win your weekly matchup for you. It’s no fun when JuJu Smith-Schuster does the same thing but gets tackled inside the two-yard line and then you have to watch through your fingers as James Conner vultures his coveted six points. Observations are so important, and it isn’t just about good luck or bad luck – you want to actually look at how they score.
So, let’s do it. I watched every single touchdown Adams scored this year, and we’re going to take a look at why he’s so productive.
The first thing that you have to love about the Packers superstar is his route running and ability to get open. When you’re in the red zone it can be really difficult to outmanoeuvre the defense, due to the lack of vertical space you can threaten – when a defender has to stop the deep ball, it is easier to break away from them – and so you have to be really skilled in your footwork and quickness to break away. That being said, we need to watch this play from the Packers’ game against the Detroit Lions in Week 5.
One thing that I can tell you for free, the Packers saw a lot of man coverage when they were within 20-yards of the end zone. This is partially from design (coming out with three receivers to one side can help), and also in part an attempt to force the receivers to get open, not just letting Aaron Rodgers do the hard work and tear the zones apart.
When you play against the 2018 Detroit Lions, there are two things that you know for certain. 1. They’re going to run it with LeGarrette Blount on first down for two yards. 2. Darius Slay is going to try and lock down your best receiver.
As you can see above, Davante Adams is in this case stood in the flexed spot as the number three receiver to the wide side of the field in a trips formation. This forced Slay to either give up on his assignment to stop Adams, or stand about 10-yards closer to the middle of the field than where he’d prefer to be. The defense is showing an obvious man blitz, and the route combination to Rodgers’ left is one that will be tough to defend in man coverage.
This play is a half-field read for ARod, and what they’re doing is creating a pure one-on-one matchup for their best receiver. The whip route on the outside will either get open against an overexcited cornerback biting inside, or will keep him busy down low, creating space for Adams to attack the front pylon on a short corner route. The #2 receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has an inside release into a dig route that will never get open against a cover one, but will hold the safety to the middle of the field.
This play design is set up to give Adams a duel. My feet versus yours. Let’s see who wins this battle: spoiler alert – it wasn’t Darius Slay.
Slay, one of the best man defenders in the league, and definitely the best for the Lions, can’t keep up with the Green Bay #17. Adams gives him a slow-play release and some shake and bake, causing him to stumble, and leading to an open reception for an easy touchdown. You can’t overlook the importance of combining good route running with playcalls and play design that give him favourable circumstances, just like the Packers did for this score.
The next thing I want to talk about is how much Aaron Rodgers trusts and believes in Davante Adams. This is a recurring theme, and sets the backbone for the majority of the touchdowns we have left to look at. If Rodgers is going to throw a touchdown, we’ve already established that he is most likely to throw it to his number one receiver, but more importantly, when they need a big play, he looks to Adams.
In Week 6, the San Francisco 49ers were in the other Bay, and they found themselves with a seven-point lead at the two-minute warning came. Unfortunately for them, they had a man with the number 12 on his chest stood 16-yards from their end zone.
The home team came out in a shotgun formation with a single running back as usual, in a pretty standard spread formation, with the two wide receivers to the wide side of the field, and the tight end, Jimmy Graham to the narrow side.
The Niners actually did something really interesting on this play, and I’m a big fan of them trying to get creative to stop Rodgers, to their credit, but we’ll look at that in a minute.
The offensive play that’s been called is pretty simple, they’ve got two vertical routes to Rodgers’ left, one fade and one seam, both receivers use a stutter move to try and get open against the barely disguised man coverage. On the opposite side of the field (which as you will realise watching the Packers can be basically pointless in the red zone, if Rodgers has his eyes on Adams) Graham has another vertical and there’s a hitch outside.
This play boils down to this – Davante Adams one-on-one with second-year cornerback Greg Mabin (two recorded pass defenses in his career so far).
Let’s take a look what happens.
When I said the 49ers did something creative and interesting on this play, I was referring to them using a defensive end to play the role of a robber on the #2 receiver. This, on paper, is to try and take away the inside seam, and giving the player who looked to be in straight-up man coverage the ability to give some (much needed) help on Adams if he breaks inside.
What actually happened is Mabin decided to play Adams with his hips turned towards Rodgers, [this is a terrible decision in my opinion and he should have kept his hips square, and if anything flipped them outside]. When the stutter step causes for Adams to give up a couple of yards to Mabin and then reaccelerates, the young cornerback can now no longer see what Adams is doing, and Rodgers just puts a fade route over the top of his reach for a jump-ball and a relatively easy touchdown catch.
I wouldn’t consider that play to be overly impressive from Adams, as I think the corner shot himself in the foot, but it demonstrates how Aaron Rodgers loves throwing to him whenever there is an important situation, and this was a game-tying shot throughout which the QB’s eyes were locked firmly on him.
Davante Adams doesn’t just win against someone that is young and inexperienced though, you don’t have to screw up and flip your hips the wrong way for him to beat you. In week 10, the Packers hosted Miami, equipped with their talented corner Xavien Howard, who was lined up across from Adams for much of the game.
In the third quarter, the Packers came out in a trips formation, with Davante Adams on the backside on his own, isolated with Howard standing over him. The difference with this clip is that we get a rare glimpse at Adams doing his work against zone coverage down near the red zone (as you can see, they’re just outside the 20, which might be why they got a zone look). Howard is stood at a relaxed five-yard cushion which grows just before the snap of the ball, and his slight outside leverage all-but confirms to Rodgers that there is an almost certain zone call.
Pre-snap the read is ‘Cover 3 until proven otherwise’ and the play call is a pretty strong one for that coverage and gave Adams an opportunity to show off his smarts.
As I mentioned before, the formation has placed the three other receivers as far away as they can, and isolated Adams – however the play art shows that they’re far from leaving Adams on his own. There is a simple smash concept from the 1 and 2 receivers to the wide side of the field, nothing special, but it’s the route from Jimmy Graham that makes this play turn out the way it does.
Graham’s post route crosses underneath the central free safety in the Cover 3, and threatens Xavien Howard’s deep third zone, that would otherwise have only had to deal with Davante Adams. That post route is what makes this play call work perfectly against the three-high look that the Dolphins gave them.
Then, once you give Adams the chance to get open against the stretched zone coverage, he uses his football IQ to bring in one of the longest TD’s you’ll ever see him score.
Don’t misunderstand my excitement, I’m not giving Davante Adams credit for pioneering the stutter when running a vertical route. I’m not patting Adams on the back for drawing up the play call. What I love on this play is his visible decision to slow down his route and settle in the weak spot of the defense, and find himself open underneath Howard, when he becomes preoccupied by Graham.
Watch the play again.
He doesn’t just run a stutter fade or a stop and go. He identifies the space and the coverage, and he significantly slows down his route, giving ARod plenty of space to fit the ball to him between the curl-to-flat zone defender and the deep third. Howard moves maybe four or five yards towards Graham’s post route, maximum, but Adams increases the separation by slowing down. After all of this, he then does something that very few players do better – he makes you miss at the goal line and gets in for the score. Seriously, by the way, he is really good at that.
The next play that I want to talk about isn’t a crazy play design or an amazing schematic deep-dive. These last two breakdowns are more to show how much Aaron Rodgers loves using Adams as his red zone target.
In week 12, the Packers were facing the Vikings in Minnesota. The Vikings are generally considered to be one of the most suffocating defenses in the league, with superstars sprinkled at multiple positions. One such star is Xavier Rhodes, a brilliant cornerback who specialises in lock down man coverage, and who shadows the WR1 of their opponent on a weekly basis.
This week, as you could hopefully have predicted without seeing the image above, Rhodes was facing off with Davante Adams. This battle was one that you could expect to go back and forth, and Rhodes did a fine job, but the Packers receiver and his quarterback weren’t scared to go at him. On this play, Green Bay lined up in a heavy set with just two receivers, with two tight ends, and Rodgers under centre.
This formation looks run-heavy, and draws in an eight-man box, leaving the three members of the secondary to keep an eye on the possible passing threat. But, as you may have guessed, whether it was the original play or not, the ball is going through the air on this one.
This play art is about the most uninspiring design you will ever see me draw up in an article, but what this represents is pretty important. There are nine offensive players running Stretch Right. But if Aaron Rodgers isn’t one of those nine, I’m looking at his favourite target, Davante Adams. This play could either be play action or a Run Pass Option, but Rodgers decided pre-snap (when you decide before the snap it’s called an RPO Alert) that he was throwing the ball.
Adams runs a fade route with a quick outside release, forcing Rhodes to flip his hips, and he sprints for the end zone. As this is happening, Rodgers is taking the ball from saddle, and taking a quick three-step drop, training his eyes on the Vikings man-specialist. The key to this play is the speed. At the back of his drop (he’s eager to throw the ball and quickens the hitch at the top of his drop), and he absolutely rips it to the back shoulder as soon as Rhodes can’t see the ball.
Rodgers’ placement on this pass is perfect, and the timing is exceptional. He threw the ball within 1.5 seconds from the snap. Part of that is due to how quickly Adams releases off the line, and it takes Rhodes completely out of the play. The defender did everything he could to try and stop Adams, but Rodgers trusts him, no matter who he’s running with, to get his hands to the ball and make a play. Adams does an incredible job of keeping his balance, and after making a pretty difficult catch look easy, he even manages to turn up and get inside the pylon for six points.
Are you starting to understand why he is scoring so often?
- He’s really good.
- His QB is really good.
- His really good QB loves him, because he’s really good.
Rodgers’ appreciation and affinity for throwing to Adams doesn’t always have to manifest itself in big moments or only in the red zone (he put up just shy of 1,400 yards without a single TD from 30+ yards). But when Rodgers needs to rely on someone, it is always #17 he looks to.
This last play combines two things, this relationship and rapport with Rodgers, and astonishing ability from Adams. I will even (an incredibly rare occasion) be showing a clip that came from the broadcast, instead of sticking with my beloved Coaches’ Film, to properly show how good this is.
The Packers were hosting the Arizona Cardinals in this game, and it definitely didn’t go the way you would expect. The visitors did a better job than most would expect during a rough season and actually ended up winning the game, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate one of my favourite Rodgers to Adams plays of the season. This film room is all about looking at the plethora of ways he scores touchdowns, and this is a great example of that.
It was only the second quarter, but in a tight 0-0 game, the Packers decided to be aggressive and go for it on a 4th and 4 from the 13-yard line. They lined up in one of their more popular formations, a trips formation in the shotgun. This look is met by an almost too obvious man blitz look. The Cardinals defense has three defensive players over the three receivers (two WR’s and Graham as the left) to the offenses left side, one cornerback straight up over the single short-side wideout, and then a safety who is technically over the top but could also be in man coverage on the running back if he releases.
The Packers have a pretty big blinking sign saying ‘we’re blitzing you, by the way’ in front of them, and they have to call a play that they think will get them either five yards or a touchdown. Let’s look at the play they called.
They basically just ran a vertical concept to the left that has two pretty simple vertical stems, and Jimmy Graham runs a crossing route that is designed to draw any safeties away from Adams who has the inside vertical from the slot position. It’s not the worst play call in the world, but realistically, if you’re on 4th and 4, it definitely isn’t the best.
I actually like the way that the Cardinals played this on paper, however unfortunately, the execution – while it probably would have been enough to force most QB’s to make an ill-advised throw or scramble – could have definitely been better.
The defense, that was showing a very aggressive man blitz look only actually rushes five, and one of the two 1-technique linebackers actually drops back and is responsible for picking up Jimmy Graham in man coverage. This allows walked-down safety Antoine Bethea, who was lined up over the tight end to serve as a robber, and help out on Adams. This is perfect – on paper. Graham’s route is supposed to draw help away from Adams and let him win on an inside release and Rodgers can lead him inside on the throw.
But nothing is perfect in the NFL. Even more notably so against Rodgers.
This defensive play call results in Bethea taking away the inside throw to #17 for Rodgers quickly, however [please do not ask my why, because I genuinely have no idea], he then just sits down in a completely unnecessary zone that has no threat whatsoever from any player in green and looks lost. Regardless of this frankly confusing decision, nobody from the Packers gets open. The outside vertical route is locked up well, Graham doesn’t do anything to warrant a target, and the isolated receiver to Rodgers’ right was just there to make the formation legal.
Rodgers has no read and nowhere to throw.
Touchdown Green Bay.
I had to explain what happened before I showed you for this clip, because it’s hard to focus on how the offensive play call was nullified when you’ve just witnessed a fantastic Touchdown catch.
Pro tip: If you ever see Rodger gesturing and redirecting people from the pocket during the play, it’s about to get fun, so pay attention.
This is how good Rodgers and Adams are. When the ex-MVP quarterback has nowhere to go, he just directs Adams and finds him in the back of the end zone for a beautiful toe-tapping grab to take the lead.
This whole article boils down to one question: What can people do to stop this guy scoring?
So, don’t question it, just draft him as the number one wide receiver in fantasy football and thank me later.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL. You can follow him @TYLERARTHUR69 on twitter