GREEN BAY — Jordy Nelson has been a lot of things to Davante Adams over the years.
Teammate. Mentor. Friend. Hater.
Yep. At least if you ask Adams.
Adams enters the Green Bay Packers’ regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions having caught 117 passes for 1,498 yards and 11 touchdowns — meaning he needs 22 yards to break Nelson’s franchise single-season receiving yardage record of 1,519 set in 2014, when Adams was a rookie.
And Adams does so believing that, upon his arrival as a second-round pick from Fresno State, Nelson, the team’s No. 1 receiver and quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ established go-to guy, hated him.
“I don’t know if he’s told you guys, but he’s told me multiple times: He thought I didn’t like him, that I hated him, that I didn’t want him there,” Nelson recounted during an interview on ESPN Wisconsin earlier this season. “But I was just hard on him.”
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As you might guess, Adams remembers that time a bit differently.
“No, he hated me,” Adams replied, smirking, when told of Nelson’s comments. “Well, I take it back. Jordy didn’t hate me (specifically). But he hated rookies.
“I came in mouth shut, quiet, just coming in and doing my thing. I never thought I knew everything. He told me I thought I knew everything, but I literally didn’t even speak in the meetings. I think he was just trying to justify his being mean to me.”
That eventually changed, of course, as Nelson saw Adams grow and improve. But Adams never forgot.
“When I called him out about it — I didn’t say anything until we were best friends by that point — I just told him that I didn’t appreciate that. And that I thought he hated me. He said that that wasn’t the case. He said it was just rookies. (He said), ‘You thought you knew everything coming in.’ But he was just making stuff up at that point.
“For everybody out there, Jordy did hate me when I first got here. But now I couldn’t ask for a better friend. So, we’re good.”
On Sunday at Ford Field, Adams can get back at his friend by breaking his record. And if Nelson wants to cite the NFL’s first 17-game season as being the reason Adams breaks it — assuming he plays, as coach Matt LaFleur insisted throughout the week that he and Rodgers will — it’s worth pointing out that Adams missed the Packers’ Oct. 28 win at Arizona while sidelined with COVID-19, despite being vaccinated.
“It’s been impressive,” Nelson said. “Talk about a guy who’s grown over (time). This is Year 8 for him now. From a guy who came in very young, obviously very explosive and very talented, but just needed to fine-tune everything and become that professional where it was week-in and week-out, every practice, every game.
“The confidence and mindset that he obviously now has is that, no matter who it is across from him, they have no chance. And it might be two or three guys and they still don’t have a chance sometimes.”
What might be just as impressive about Adams, in talking with LaFleur, Rodgers, wide receivers coach Jason Vrable, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and wideout Allen Lazard, is Adams’ evolution as a leader.
Because for as good as Adams has been in recent years — after his 11 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, no one in the NFL has caught more passes (575) for more yards (7,137) and more touchdowns (69) since the start of the 2016 season than Adams — somewhere during that time, the 29-year-old morphed into the grumpy old man he claims Nelson was to him.
“The conversation Davante and I had post-game on Sunday, it was just me telling him how much I respect him for what he does on the field, but more so for what he does off the field — his leadership in our receiver room, the offensive room, the locker room, all that stuff,” said Lazard, who caught six passes for 72 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown, against the Vikings. “That’s what I’ve been able to draw the most from him, given the time we’ve been able to spend together. Doing that, and being able to see what he’s doing to be successful off the field, has skyrocketed my success on the field.
“Even though Davante is being hard on us, being a real stickler about your steps, your body language, whatever it may be, it’s all going toward the better of the team. So, when Davante is giving those lectures, being hard on us, being a stickler, it’s all out of love, (No.) 1, and (No.) 2, it’s up to whoever’s receiving it to do what they do with the information.”
Added LaFleur: “That is a position obviously where the standard is held very high — and you’ve got Davante to thank for that. He sets the tone for that room.”
If that sounds familiar to Adams, it should: That’s exactly what Nelson was doing in the receiver room when Adams arrived. In 2014, Nelson was coming off his second 1,000-yard season and had spent the previous year as the clear leader in the room, following the free agent departure of veteran Greg Jennings.
And just as Adams got after his younger teammates during a midseason come-to-Jesus meeting that lit a fire beneath Lazard and others, Nelson was delivering similar demands of Adams that first season together, while putting up those record numbers he had that year.
“I don’t sugarcoat a lot of things. I’m pretty blunt,” Nelson said. “He knew what he was doing, but he might not have known exactly what the receiver on the other side was doing. And that’s what we’d always stress: You have to know the whole concept and not just your position. Now, I think he understands. One of the biggest challenges is to continue to get better with success. A lot of times, when people are successful, it can cover up a lot of things. If you have a good game, there’s still details or there’s still other plays in a game that could’ve been better. That’s where I think you go to another level.”
In that tough-love meeting with the other receivers, Adams said, the point was to get all of the wideouts to seek that next level. To that end, he and Vrable “turned it up a notch, as far as like how hard we were being on people. Because obviously, you know what I demand of myself, you see the way I practice, everything. So we started to come down on guys a little bit harder just to push it and see what guys are really made of and how consistent and how much they can really demand from themselves.
“It was a little bit of a shock to a few guys, but they know where we come from with it and they know we care so much about them. That’s really what it’s all about.”
Since that meeting, which came the week of the team’s Nov. 28 win over the Los Angeles Rams, Lazard has elevated his play the most. But to back up his words, Adams has, too. It began the week before, in a Nov. 21 loss at Minnesota, in which he caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Including that game, Adams has crossed the 100-yard threshold in five of the last six games, with the one time he failed to do so being the Packers’ Dec. 19 win at Baltimore, when the Ravens’ “17 Bulldog” coverage had him being guarded by at least two defenders on every single play.
Overall, Adams has caught 52 of 64 targets for 634 yards and eight TDs over those six games, an average of 8.7 receptions, 105.7 yards and 1.3 TDs per game.
Asked whether Nelson’s approach with him has influenced his interactions with his younger teammates, Adams admitted he sometimes wishes he had taken a more hardline approach with a player like 2018 fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore, who caught two passes for 15 yards as a rookie, was cut at the end of training camp in 2019 and hasn’t played in an NFL regular-season game since, or Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was inconsistent his first two NFL seasons before being more productive the past two years.
“Jordy is a little bit more old school. If I was a little bit smaller, I feel like he would’ve tried to tape me to a goal post or something,” Adams said. “I didn’t really go Jordy’s route, especially with some of the guys that I’ve had. I wish that I would have with maybe with Marquez or J’Mon or something like that. But those are my guys. So, I don’t try to scare them too much. People tell me I’m a scary dude, just in general. Apparently, people are pretty intimidated by me just on the day-to-day. I don’t know why.”
Hmmm. That sounds familiar to Nelson, too.
“He sat by me in the meeting room, and the expectations in that room were to know what you were doing; know the correct way to do it and say it; and be prepared every week,” Nelson said. “It’s funny now that in the last couple years he’s been in that role, dealing with the young guys that he’s had to try to mentor and bring along. Now, he understands where I was coming from, having those conversations with him.
“Not only the way he’s developed on the field but in the room and as a leader and the guy that sets the standard, these guys have to get up and match it. I think it’s great to see, and it’s fun to continue to watch and see how far he’s able to take this thing.”