Is Davante Adams Salvageable in Fantasy Football?

Davante Adams has had a terrible 2015, from injury to drops. Is it time to drop him?

The National Football League’s offseason decision to change the definition of a catch has turned the 2015 football landscape into one nigh-hellish existential crisis after another, game after game. I quote to you the NFL Rulebook’s Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3:

“A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds: secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has clearly become a runner (see 3-2-7 Item 2).”

At least we can safely rule out anything wide receiver Davante Adams does these days as a catch before we even have to look up “3-2-7 Item 2”.

Adams was targeted a whopping 21 times in the Green Bay Packers’ Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions, and he caught a grand total of 10 of them, for just 79 yards. If you play in a PPR league, you’re probably thinking he had a wonderful day, but on the field it was a brutal exercise in an inability to separate from backup cornerbacks and frying-pan hands.

We’re all wondering it: is Davante Adams salvageable in fantasy football?

Rules are Rules

First things first: we watch games like Adams’ and build ourselves a perception of how terrible he’s been, but what exactly are we looking at here? The table below shows his box score stats from his career thus far. What do we find?

Year Rec/Tar Catch Rate Rec Yd TD
2014 38/66 57.6% 446 3
2015* 58/106* 55.1% 588* 0*
Career 65/115 56.5% 718 3

Despite having a projected 40 more targets in 2015 than he did in his rookie year, Adams is on pace for just 142 more receiving yards because of his decrease in catch rate. To put how awful of a pace this is into perspective, per Pro Football Reference, only nine wide receivers since 1992 -- when targets began being tracked -- have had more than 150 targets, a catch rate lower than 56.5%, and fewer than 1,050 yards in their first two seasons in the NFL.

Perhaps this should be hopeful, that Adams’ career beginning has been so horrid that the odds are he can’t possibly continue to be this bad. But are we certain that’s the takeaway?

Rules Are Made to Be Broken

The easiest thing we could do to fix Davante Adams’ catching woes is to change the definition of a catch once again to include any football thrown to him. Then this article could be over, and you would be happy, and the Packers would win everything.

But it’s not that simple.

Unfortunately, far more goes into the makings of a good NFL receiver than most people believe. We know that an excellent receiver needs precise route-running, sure hands in the receiving game, and even the ability to get off of a jam at the line.

It’s hard to quantify those skills and assign an easy reference number to them, but we can analyze the output via some of these skills through numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below depicts Adams’ career so far in terms of Reception NEP and Target NEP, as well as his Reception Success Rate. I also included his ranks among qualifying wide receivers in these metrics by year. Has he really been as atrocious as he’s seemed?

Year Rec NEP Per-Play Target NEP Success Rate
2014 38.42 (69th of 76) 0.58 (54th) 14.16 (57th) 86.8 (t-36th)
2015 18.90 (58th of 62) 0.39 (57th) 0.83 (59th) 77.8% (54th)

Target NEP is one way we can try to assess the details of a wide receiver’s game, from the route-running and catching perspective. It helps to show us which receivers are making themselves the best targets for their quarterbacks. But, if a receiver does have a bad quarterback, they will also have a lower Target NEP; it goes both ways.

However, Adams has Aaron Rodgers, and I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s a bad quarterback.

Adams’ 2015 advanced analytics season is so bad that only six wide receivers since 2000 have had lower per-target Reception NEP marks while still sustaining 100 or more targets. The most recent entries into this group include Cecil Shorts and Andre Johnson in 2014, but even Johnson had a decent (relatively) Target NEP of 3.71. Adams is on pace for just 1.66 Target NEP in 2015.

Even his Success Rate is ridiculously poor, considering the offense he’s playing in and his supposed physical ability. Success Rate -- the percentage of positive NEP receptions -- can be seen as the combination of both a player’s ability to create positive value and the offense’s ability to put him in a good position to do so.

That said, there have been 16 wide receivers since 2000 with at least 100 targets in a season and lower Success Rates, and every single one of them had a better per-target Reception NEP, including Larry Fitzgerald during the Arizona Cardinals’ 2012 dumpster fire.

So, why hasn’t he made the splash we hoped?

What? Canst Not Rule Him?

For some historical perspective on him, our own  Brandon Gdula wrote him up in 2014, previewing his fantasy potential. Some receivers are physical marvels, but never learn how to hone their game like this. Perhaps Davante Adams is one of these players.

MockDraftable has tracked NFL Combine drill performances going back to 1999, and they put up a comparison of Adams that was none-too-generous either. He was fairly middling in terms of physical size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds), except for one key factor: he has tiny hands, at 9 inches flat, and that is in the 17th percentile (as in, he has larger hands than just 17% of all wide receivers at the Combine since 1999). He also had incredible explosive ability, he is lacking in long speed (29th in 40-yard dash) and lateral agility (29th in short shuttle). His most notable close comparison here is perhaps Koren Robinson, who had a solid-but-unspectacular eight-year career between Seattle, Minnesota, and Green Bay.

In the NFL so far, he hasn’t been able to get separation on his routes, which may be a result of simply an agility deficiency that was overlooked early on, or the ankle injury he suffered this year lingering. Catching is also incredibly key for receivers -- obviously -- and we know Adams hasn’t excelled at this skill, which may be a result of having small hands for a receiver. It didn’t bother him in college, however: he had a 74.9% catch rate in his final year at Fresno State.

Perhaps we can learn something from the lesson of his best NFL Draft READ score comparison, Greg Little: he could have everything going for him if only he worked on the finer facets of the game.

Or we bent the rules.