Whether you believe that Bart Starr, Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in Green Bay Packers franchise history, those players don’t get to their career peaks without the help of some incredibly talented wide receivers.
The most gifted wideout the Packers currently have is Davante Adams, of course. He’s entered the conversation of best receiver in the game, but he hasn’t quite reached the highest level in the pantheon of best pass-catchers in Green Bay history. If he can continue his current career arc, especially the trajectory of the last three seasons, Adams would cement himself firmly in the argument of the best Packers wide receiver ever.
However, the big question that remains in this thought experiment is if he can do it without Rodgers?
Let’s first establish what the top tier of Packers wide receivers looks like.
THE HALL OF FAMERS
You can certainly argue that today’s wide receivers are bigger, faster, and stronger than these legends, but the top-three wideouts in franchise history are Don Hutson, Sterling Sharpe, and James Lofton. Both Hutson and Lofton have gold jackets and their busts in Canton, and Sharpe deserves to be there too. His injury-shortened career is still remarkable, and he was the second-best wide receiver in the early ’90s, behind only Jerry Rice.
THE INCREDIBLE CAREERS
Some people think that Donald Driver should be included in that top level, but he’s just on the outside looking in. Driver was a constant for the Packers throughout the first decade of the 21st century, and his accumulated numbers are among the team’s best in receptions (743) and yards (10,137). Driver became one of the best seventh-round draft picks in league history, and the fact that he played his entire career with Green Bay certainly helps his legacy. He won’t make it to Canton, but he’ll be a Lambeau legend forever.
Like Sharpe, but to a lesser degree, Jordy Nelson‘s career has a certain sense of “What could have been?” to it. Looking back at his 2014 season, his numbers are ridiculous: 98 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. The yardage mark stands as the best in franchise history. Had it not been for an ACL tear in the 2015 season, there’s no reason to think that Nelson couldn’t have maintained that peak for several seasons, especially considering his legendary on-field chemistry with an Aaron Rodgers at the peak of his powers. He rebounded for 97 catches for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016, but his career took a steep dropoff after that. He tallied 1,221 yards total in one more season with the Packers and a coda with the Oakland Raiders.
TOP-FIVE HONORABLE MENTION
Several players are just below the top five, including Antonio Freeman, Greg Jennings, and Boyd Dowler. Each has good arguments to be included, but, in my opinion, the combination of the lengths of their respective tenures and their peak productivity in their time with Green Bay put them within the top-10 Packers receivers — just outside the top five.
SO WHERE IS DAVANTE NOW?
If Davante Adams were to retire right now, I think he would be looked at as the sixth-best wide receiver in team history. He’s very close to both Driver and Nelson, but there’s something about a Lombardi Trophy that helps boost the resumé of those two just a bit. As it stands, Adams ranks eighth in career receiving yards (6,568) and fourth in both receptions (546) and touchdowns (62) in his seven-year NFL career. His last three seasons have been remarkable, in which he sandwiched a pair of 1,300-plus-yard seasons with a 997-yard campaign in 2019 that was shortened to just 12 games due to injury.
Adams has definitely thought about his legacy in Green Bay over the past few seasons. It’s why he didn’t think twice about playing last year, even with all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, and why he’s at training camp (albeit late, for personal reasons) this year.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
The best-case scenario for Adams’ career just so happens to be the one that fans are rooting for. The world in which Adams, 28, can ride the last few seasons of Aaron Rodgers’ career into his early 30s, continuing to perform at a Pro-Bowl level, even if maybe his All-Pro peak is behind him. Imagine three more years with Rodgers, continuing the 1,100-yard average he had put up over the past five seasons. Tack on two or three more 800-yard seasons, and Adams owns essentially every record in Packers history. The conversation then shifts to what year Adams sees his bust unveiled at the Hall of Fame.
The opposite end of the spectrum? A rocky season with Jordan Love (and maybe some spells with Blake Bortles) under center. I can’t picture a world where Adams, even as good as he is, puts up a 1,300-yard campaign with either of those two. His contract is one of the few that hasn’t been restructured. If he decides that without Rodgers, the grass is greener elsewhere, he bolts following the season.
In the latter scenario here, I think that Adams remains as Green Bay’s sixth-best wide receiver of all time. There’s no shame in that, considering the names that are in front of him. However, if he comes close to approaching the best-case scenario, he will most certainly find his name ascending the leaderboard. There’s a very plausible scenario where he becomes the best wideout in Packers history, especially if he can help bring home another Super Bowl title. But he can’t get there if he’s caught his last pass from Aaron Rodgers.