Why Davante Adams Is Worth the Risk in Fantasy Football as the Packers' Top Receiver

With Jordy Nelson no longer in Green Bay, Davante Adams steps into a historically productive role. What does that mean for his upside in 2018?

Heading into the 2018 season, it's out with the old -- Jordy Nelson -- and in with the new -- Davante Adams -- for the Green Bay Packers' offense. But this isn't the first time we've heard about a changing of the guard for the Green Bay wideouts.

We saw a similar situation heading into the 2015 season when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in training camp. Adams gained some serious buzz only to be a big disappointment as he never got on the same page with Aaron Rodgers. It could have just been a case of having too much put on his plate at one time, especially with Adams being just 22 at the time.

In the two years since then, Adams has led the Packers in targets (238), red-zone targets (49), yards (1,882), and touchdowns (22). He has clearly earned his quarterback's trust, and the excitement has come back around as we head into the 2018 season.

The Situation

Some would argue that he was already there last year, but it's now official: Adams is Green Bay's number-one wide receiver.

The hype train is chugging right along with Adams going with the 18th overall pick, according to Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position (ADP) data. That makes him the seventh wide receiver off the board, ahead of both A.J. Green and Mike Evans, despite never catching more than 75 passes or eclipsing 1,000 yards in a season.

With Nelson now in Oakland and a healthy Rodgers starting off the year under center, how big of an improvement should we expect from Adams in his new role?

Rodgers' Number-Ones

Rodgers is arguably the best active quarterback in the NFL today, and he has been consistently playing at a high level for about 10 years now. When assessing Adams' fantasy potential as Rodgers' new top option, it is important to look at the numbers previous players have put up in the same role.

The below table shows the receivers to have finished fifth or better in fantasy scoring at the position while on the other end of Rodgers' elite passing arm.

Wide Receiver Year Targets Targets/Game Receptions Yards Touchdowns Rank
Greg Jennings 2008 140 8.8 80 1292 9 5
Greg Jennings 2010 125 7.8 76 1265 12 5
Jordy Nelson 2011 96 6.0 68 1263 15 4
Jordy Nelson 2014 151 9.4 98 1519 13 3
Jordy Nelson 2016 152 9.5 97 1257 14 2

Rodgers has produced five top-five wideouts over his career. And the first thing that jumps off the screen is the elite-of-the-elite touchdown totals. Rodgers is consistently providing his top receivers with double-digit touchdown potential with these five instances amounting to an average of 12.6 scores per season.

The one surprise takeaway is the low target totals. In his career, Rodgers has targeted a receiver more than 150 times in only 2 seasons, and no receiver playing with him has ever averaged double-figure targets on a per-game basis. Both Greg Jennings and Nelson were superbly efficient with the targets they saw. When we combine the above five seasons, the receivers averaged 15.7 yards per reception.

This is a concern for Adams' fantasy ceiling because he has been such a poor performer on a per-target basis. In his career, Adams has a 59% catch rate and averages just 11.9 yards per reception.

However, in 2017 -- and without Rodgers throwing to him for most of it -- Adams tied for 13th in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP, which tracks the expected points added on each reception) per target (0.78) among players with 50-plus caches. He finished the year with a 62.7% catch rate and 12.0 yards per catch. His Reception NEP per target total on passes from Rodgers alone would have ranked him second in the league had it been for the full season.

There are some negatives -- or at least question marks -- but we have to take age into consideration. Jennings and Nelson saw sustained success with Rodgers in their mid-to-late 20s, and now Adams enters this season -- his fifth -- at age 25.

Volume Increase

In fantasy football, volume is king for the wide receiver position, and Adams should see a nice bump in volume as he moves up to the very top of the pecking order in the Packers' passing game. Nelson saw 150 targets in his last 2 full healthy seasons with Rodgers. We have seen Adams' target market share increase year over year, and he set his career-high mark of 24.4% last season, with a lot of those looks coming via Brett Hundley.

With the shift back to a healthy Rodgers in 2018, even if Adams does not see an increase in his team target share, his numbers will naturally increase. The Packers' receiving core behind Adams leaves a lot to be desired even with the veteran Randall Cobb. Cobb has a nagging injury history, and his production has slipped since his big 2014 season. And, as for the team's third wide receiver situation, it will be a battle between Geronimo Allison and a bunch of rookies.

There's also the additions of Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, but at this point in their careers, they are relied on for their big bodies in the red zone more than anything. From a volume standpoint, they won't do much -- if any -- damage to Adams' workload.

Adams stands out as the key centerpiece of the Green Bay passing attack, and Rodgers will lean heavily on him. In the 8 seasons in which Aaron Rodgers has played more than 12 games, he has averaged 538.5 passing attempts. With a volume increase, we should see Adams reach a 25 to 28% target share, which would give him 135 to 150 targets. numberFire's season-long projections have him tabbed for 142 targets. Given the assumed efficiency from those targets in a Rodgers-led offense, this would set Adams up well for success.

Proven Red-Zone Production

Since joining the Packers in 2014, Adams' role has expanded with time and experience. One area of Adams' game that has been very consistent, especially over the past couple seasons, is his volume in the red zone. Whether it was Rodgers or Hundley at quarterback, Adams has been a favorite red-zone target (table stats via NFL Savant).

Year Red-Zone Targets Red-Zone Receptions Red-Zone Team Target Share Red-Zone Touchdowns
2016 25 14 20.20% 9
2017 24 16 36.40% 8

The Packers have identified where Adams wins against coverage, and that is in the red zone. Adams has led the NFL in both red-zone targets (49) and red-zone touchdowns (17) over the last 2 years. In his 4-year career, he has 26 receiving touchdowns, and 20 of them (76.9%) have come in the red zone.

Nelson posed the biggest threat to Adams' scoring opportunities in previous years, and he's no longer around to do so. Graham -- who has dominated the red zone throughout his career -- may turn into the new red-zone target, but only time will tell how long it takes Graham to connect with Rodgers. Adams has already proven himself trustworthy in the red zone, so he should continue to be Rodgers' favorite inside the 20.

2018 Potential

We have now sorted through a few angles to project how good Adams could be as Rodgers' number-one receiver. There will be an expected volume increase, but is that increase enough to improve on his ninth-place finish in 2016? Will his sustained red-zone production lead to a career year?

There are some slight concerns with his efficiency metrics as well as the low target history for Rodgers' number-one receivers. Adams' injury history -- especially with concussions -- is something to keep in mind, as well.

Competition could present Adams with a tall task, as well, as he stands to be the focus of defensive game plans with very tough individual matchups on tap. He will see the Lions' Darius Slay and the Vikings' Xavier Rhodes twice within the divisional schedule (although one Slay matchup is in Week 17), and he will also square off with Patrick Peterson, Desmond Trufant, Stephon Gilmore and Aqib Talib.

Even with all those concerns considered, the opportunity far outweighs them. Adams is entering the prime of his career with the best quarterback in the league tossing him the rock. As Adams continues to mature, the efficiency metrics he has flashed the past two years seem more legit than his early-career numbers. He is a near lock for double-digit touchdowns for the third straight season, assuming he continues to get force fed in the red zone. A top-10 finish among wide receivers seems like a reasonable expectation for Adams this season with upside for a lot more.