Forget stats (and 3 measly yards), Packers' Davante Adams remains a force

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In the moment, Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams didn't know what to think of those missing 3 yards and another 997-yard season.

Maybe it didn't matter.

"It doesn't, but it does," the ever-philosophical Adams said.

The first time he narrowly missed 1,000 yards came at the end of the 2016 season. Since then, he hit that manufactured milestone with 1,386 yards in 2018, when he also missed the franchise single-season receptions record by a single catch after a knee injury kept him out of the season finale and at 111.

"Obviously, 1,000 sounds better than 997," Adams said in the offseason following his first 997-yard season. "But at the end of the day, it's just to say you had a 1,000-yard season. It doesn't change anything."

Here's the difference between this year and 2016: Adams did it in 12 games and with defenses draping him with double-teams.

In 2016, he had proven and productive receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb alongside and younger tight ends in Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers. This year, he had former undrafted free agents Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard at receiver and aging Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis at tight end.

And he had a throbbing right big toe throughout the second half of the season.

So when asked whether the 2019 season, all things considered, might have been one of his best seasons, Adams was at least willing to consider it.

"I don't know if I could say it's my best season because it wasn't statistically," Adams told ESPN.com. "I've scored many more touchdowns and things like that, but I think I've been able to overcome a lot. It wasn't really written from the beginning to be the storybook season, but to still get around 1,000, it's been a pretty good thing."

Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers were just starting to find ways to connect in coach Matt LaFleur's offense when he sustained a turf toe injury late in the Week 4 loss to the Eagles. Adams had just caught his 10th pass of the game and reached a career-best 180 yards when his right foot got caught underneath him and he hobbled off.

The Packers went 4-0 without him and, upon his return, the offense scuffled along. There were even suggestions the Packers were better off when Adams was hurt, something Rodgers and everyone else shot down.

"I can promise you we need him, and we're a better offense with [number] 17 on the field," Rodgers said after their third straight win without Adams.

Nevertheless, Adams had one week with more than 64 yards in his first five games back from injury. All the while, Rodgers and LaFleur said they needed to find more ways to get him the ball. To LaFleur, that meant moving him around more than ever. When he played on the outside, Adams lined up more at the "X" or split end position (on the weak side of the formation) instead of the usual "Z" (flanker) position. But the biggest difference for Adams was his production in the slot.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Adams caught 39.8% of his passes this season from one of the inside positions. That's the highest percentage of his career. The previous two seasons, 26.5% of his receptions came from the slot positions. Over his first five seasons, Adams caught 77% of his passes when lined up either wide to the right or wide to the left. This season, that number dropped to 60.2%.

What does that mean for the playoffs?

Well, it appears LaFleur and his staff have accepted the challenge of finding different ways to get him the ball.

"I wouldn't necessarily think of them as challenges, more as fun and exciting projects," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. "I think just being able to move around, his versatility makes it fun for you because you can put him in a lot of different spots. It throws people off, whether he's strongside, weakside, slot. He just has a nice repertoire of routes, so I think that it makes it fun that you can do some different things with them."

Adams said he hasn't noticed a significant difference in the amount of defensive attention he's received this year compared to 2018.

"It's been pretty much the same," Adams said.

The difference is, Rodgers might not be forcing the ball to Adams in coverage as much. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Adams doesn't have any targets in what it considers double coverage (measured as multiple defenders within a yard as the pass arrives). But Rodgers on the whole isn't throwing into double coverage much, only on 0.7% of his attempts (tied for the second-lowest in the NFL with Kirk Cousins and behind only Patrick Mahomes at 0.6%).

Perhaps all that matters is how Adams feels now. He says his toe is healed even if it's still painful.

"It's not an injury anymore," he said. "It's just something, some pain that I'm dealing with. Some days it's better than others."

Just as some years are better than others, even if the stats say differently.