Don’t let anyone tell you that Davante Adams isn’t (still) the best receiver in the league. He can win outside, over the middle, and lines up all over the field. The current yardage leader in the NFL is a master at probing and then exploiting defensive backs as they react live and in-game. His style is, fluid, patient and hard to replicate during practice. It’s even harder to adjust to when it is at game speed.
In the beginning of the Packers 24-14 win over the Bears, Davante was up to his usual poking and prodding to determine how Jaylon Johnson, who followed him most of the game, was going to play him. When defensive backs are lined up in press against him, Davante uses a split release. A split release is when the receiver immediately gets his feet even at the line of scrimmage. From there, they’re balanced and can react to how the defender is playing them.
On this rep early in the first quarter, Davante identifies that Jaylon Johnson is playing soft and patient. What that says to Davante, is that he needs to dictate the tempo of the route. With Davante’s first step, Johnson mirrors with a step back himself. Johnson wants to keep space between himself and Davante. As a result, that gets him leaning on his heels. Davante accelerates to get up onto the toes of Jaylon Johnson before bursting inside for the slant. The Bears have rolled down a robber to help bracket Davante, but this is useful information that Davante is going to use later.
Whether it’s at the start of his route or at the top of his route, Davante always wants to be under control and on balance. This time, as Jaylon Johnson starts to bail at the snap, Davante pushes up before coming to balance and running his Fin (five-yard in) route behind Allen Lazard.
Later on in the first quarter, Davante uses this information to win on a fade down the sideline. Based on his previous reps lined up outside on Jaylon Johnson, he knows these things:
- Johnson isn’t going to jam
- He wants to play soft and keep a buffer
- That Davante has shown Johnson two in-breaking routes after coming to balance
Davante ties that all together by taking his split release at the start of his route, getting his feet even at his breakpoint, and then giving a shoulder and head nod inside to sell the in-breaker. That moves Johnson inside by a step and gives Davante access down the sideline on a ball that he and Rodgers have made a living connecting on.
Where Davante racked up his yardage, though, was in the slot. Jaylon Johnson played him very differently when he was lined up inside. He would give Davante a cushion and shoot his hands once Davante got into his space. Having a two-way go against Davante Adams is almost impossible to cover. Adams again comes to balance at the top of his route and is able to beat Johnson inside by widening him to the outside and then removing his hands once he gets onto Johnson’s toes.
This all culminates with Davante’s big play on a corner route in the second half. Davante now knows that Jaylon Johnson is going to shoot his hands once he closes space in the slot. The next layer is Davante diagnosing the spinning safeties and the bracket coverage from the Bears defense. The stand-up linebacker inside of him is helping Johnson by taking away any in-breakers that Adams might run.
What that means for Adams is that he first has to beat the hands of Jaylon Johnson. Then, he can also beat the bracket by releasing inside and forcing the Bears to pass him off between zones before breaking back outside to the corner. As Davante goes in, Johnson relaxes his coverage as he expects to pass him off inside. However, Davante now gets back onto his stem and breaks to the corner. Johnson is completely out of position and it’s an easy throw and catch for Rodgers and Adams for an explosive gain.
Davante Adams is at the top of his game. He can win in multiple ways and processes the game at such a high level that he’s almost impossible to stop. You can try to double him, but as he figures out your game plan and the tendencies of the defensive back in front of him, the big play from he and Rodgers is almost inevitable.