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Davante Adams is probably open

According to one new metric, no one in the NFL is better at creating separation.

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Seattle Seahawks At Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers fans like to claim that Davante Adams is one of, if not the best route runners in the NFL. If you watch tape, it’s pretty clearly true, as he boasts one of the prettiest releases there is, but pretty doesn’t always mean effective. Maybe he looks better than he is?

Nope, it’s absolutely true. Josh Hermsmeyer of 538 did a deep dive into every NFL receiver over the last three years, breaking down exactly how open they are at the catch point on short, medium, and long passes, and Davante dominated.

It’s worth noting that Adams was particularly effective on intermediate throws, which, as Hermsmeyer points out, have the most year-to-year predictability. Adams blows everyone (other than Keenan Allen) away in creating separation on intermediate routes, ranking first (2018) and third (2019) in amount of separation above expectation. Adams’ 2017 season also shows up on the short routes leaderboard, which is especially impressive given that most separation on short routes seems to be created by defensive backs not caring as much about them. Adams is one of the few outside receivers to appear on that list at all, and no one would argue any sane defense is ignoring his presence on the field.

It’s interesting that Adams does not appear on the deep list, but there are some good reasons for this. The deep list is more crowded as deep specialists enter into the equation, and deep separation is a very different skill than early separation. That said, the deep stat also experiences more variance than intermediate. Finally, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about Davante, it’s possible his deep production will revert to the mean, reflecting the information captured on his intermediate stats.

If all of this is true, why does Adams struggle so much with efficiency stats like DVOA? Adams struggled mightily last year, ranking only 43rd in DVOA and 31st in DYAR, and even when he’s been better in the past, he consistently underperforms his counting stats. There’s a clue in those counting stats, though: his touchdowns. Adams is especially adept at scoring touchdowns with 40 since the 2016 season, and that skill is in fact a result of his elite close-quarters route running. As the field contracts close to the goal line, Adams’ elite skill is more effective and more on display.

Adams should be a model of efficiency given the windows he provides Rodgers, and it’s genuinely baffling that he’s not among the league leaders. Part of this is due to playcalling, as Mike McCarthy and Matt LaFleur both enjoyed feeding Adams on screens and other low-efficiency short throws, but Rodgers’ struggles are at least as impactful.

Why exactly hasn’t Rodgers been more effective during the Adams era? We’ve dealt with this question in the past, and part of the answer is that Rodgers prefers to hold the ball as long as possible, while Adams is often open very early in the play. Part of this may also be connected to Rodgers’ strange aversion to targeting the middle of the field, as Adams excels at in-breaking routes (though he really does excel across the board).

The bottom line is that everyone citing the poor receiving corps as an excuse for Rodgers’ decline should take a step back. Davante Adams is open frequently, and even though he does see a ton of targets, they are too often inefficient targets. Rodgers still misses him a significant portion of the time, failing to deliver the ball on time and missing on intermediate throws. If Matt LaFleur can clean this up, Adams could take a huge step forward.

The Packers’ receiving corps is often blamed for dragging Rodgers down. Given what we know of Adams, there are only a few available suspects as to who drags him down.