How much is too much of Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams?
That question has been bubbling for a few weeks, ever since Adams was targeted 18 times in the Week 3 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked Adams’ way 16 times on Sunday against Cincinnati, which resulted in a career day for the All-Pro receiver. He accounted for 206 of the Packers’ 466 total yards.
— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) October 10, 2021
Adams clearly retains the “best receiver in the league” championship belt. But it’s worthwhile to ask if Rodgers’ reliance on a single receiver limits the offense’s potential.
The numbers: Adams has been targeted 61 times in five games. That leads the NFL (Los Angeles’ Cooper Kupp is second with 56). The next-closest Packer is running back Aaron Jones with 19 targets. The next-closest Packers receiver is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who hasn’t played in two weeks, with 16.
The fact is that through five games, Adams’ target share not only leads the league, but it’s pacing at historic levels.
If you extrapolate Adams’ target totals for a full 17-game season, he’s en route to 207 targets this season. The NFL record is 208, set by Arizona’s Rob Moore in 1997.
Obviously Adams benefits here from the additional 17th game. Take that away for comparison’s sake and he’d be on pace for 195, which would tie 2012 Reggie Wayne for the eighth-most ever.
Focusing so much on one receiver hasn’t necessarily translated into team success, dating back to when targets were first tracked in 1992.
Since ’92, there have been 11 receivers to have 190 targets or more in a single season. In only three of those 11 instances did such a target share translate to a top 10 offense via DVOA (1995 Lions with Herman Moore, 2012 Lions with Calvin Johnson, and the 2015 Steelers with Antonio Brown).
The logic there checks out. If an offense is gearing toward one player so much, it’s not only because said player is likely really good, but because the other options aren’t.
The fact is that the current Packers are not built like they were in, for example, 2011. When the Packers traveled to Atlanta that season, Rodgers connected with 12 different receivers in a single game.
That year, Greg Jennings led the team with only 101 targets (he also missed three games). Two others — Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley — had at least 90.
That offense was predicated on the Packers’ third and fourth options being better than the opposition’s third and fourth options. These days, the Packers bet on their best being better than the opposition’s best.
This approach is not a new development. The Packers were also heavily reliant on Adams last year — not quite to this degree — and still had the No. 1 scoring offense in the league.
There are certainly times when Rodgers fixates on Adams and throws an incomplete ball, while another receiver is breaking open.
Remember last year in Indianapolis? After driving the length of the field with a minute left, the Packers had a third-and-3 at the Colts’ 8 with nine seconds left, trailing 31-28. Rodgers looked at Adams, and only Adams, as the receiver ran a corner to the end zone. He was covered, the ball was overthrown, the Packers settled for a field goal and ultimately lost in overtime.
What was maddening about that specific play was that Robert Tonyan ran to the opposite corner and broke wide open. But Rodgers never looks at him.
That’s the downside of this. When it’s a “need it” play, the defense is going to sell out to stop Adams, and Rodgers needs to be willing to trust others. Maybe that’s why Randall Cobb was such a crucial addition — he might not be an impact player each down, but Rodgers trusts he’ll be where he needs to be and get open in a big spot.
It’s also worth remembering that the Packers lean on Adams so much because they need to. Valdes-Scantling is hurt, and the depleted offensive line has changed Tonyan’s responsibilities a bit. As the team heals up, expect Adams’ targets to drop by one or two a game, on average.
Until then though, appreciate the monster that is Adams. Maybe it’s not the ideal approach to offense, but it’s working so far. Until some team proves they can stop it, the Packers would be wise to continue feeding their best player.