Right now, it is the perfect moment in time to compare the incredible careers of Davante Adams and Sterling Sharpe.
They’re the two best wide receivers of the combined Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers Era in Green Bay (1992-Present). One from the beginning and one, likely, from the end.
Sharpe was forced to retire at the age of 29 years old; Adams is currently 29 years old. Don’t let anyone tell you the following comparisons aren’t fair.
It’s apples to apples.
Davante Adams may have played his last down as Green Bay Packer. Wouldn’t that be poetic? Undeniably sad, but poetic in the context of where he and Sharpe stand in Packers history.
Adams could (and SHOULD!) be re-signed, which would likely make him a career-Packer. He could be franchise tagged for at least one more season in Green Bay (unlikely) or he could be suiting-up for a new team in 2022. It’s impossible to tell right now, but we’re leaning toward the Packers finding a way to keep him.
If there’s a Russ Ball, there’s a way. Ball, of course, is the Packers’ salary cap wizard and Director of Football Operations.
However, if 2021 was Adams’ last season in Green Bay, he’ll leave town with an eerily similar career to that of former Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe, statistically speaking.
We hope that Ball and the Packers’ front office finds a way to keep Adams in Green Bay, obviously. He’s a historically elite wide receiver. His career accomplishments make that abundantly clear. This also draws into focus just how freaking dominant Sterling Sharpe was. You’ll see for yourself in our comparisons below.
If Adams signs a new contract with the Packers, it’s likely he eventually takes the throne from Sharpe as the best Packers receiver in the Super Bowl Era. Maybe not on a per-season basis, but likely when factoring in the totality of their careers.
To the people angrily shouting, “What about James Lofton?” We hear you and we salute you.
Many Green Bay Packers fans that watched Sterling Sharpe play probably thought they’d go the rest of their lives without seeing another wide receiver quite as dominant as Sharpe. They wouldn’t have been foolish for thinking that.
Yet here we are, reaching a point where that may have happened.
We aren’t saying that Adams is better or more dominant than Sharpe, but we are definitely saying this is now a worthy discussion. Many younger fans would probably say Adams is definitely the best Packers receiver of the Favre-Rodgers Era. That’s what makes this so damn fun.
Both of these wide receivers are superstars, but they’re very different players.
Sharpe was a belligerent force, with surprising dexterity. Adams is methodical tactician, with surprising strength.
“Can’t we just appreciate both?” Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Our appreciation of both players is enhanced when they’re compared to one another.
With that said, there’s only one thing left to do.
Raw Career Statistics:
112 Games Played, 595 Receptions, 8134 Receiving Yards, 65 Receiving TDs, 13.7 Yards Per Reception
116 Games Played, 669 Receptions, 8121 Receiving Yards, 73 Receiving TDs, 12.1 Yards Per Reception
Pretty damn similar. So how does it shake out?
Adams took the receptions and touchdowns categories, while Sharpe took the yards and yards per reception categories.
We think it’s fair to say that these statistics are a draw. I mean, look at this:
Sharpe averaged 10.62 targets per season in his best three year stretch (1992-1994). Adams averaged 10.59 targets per game in his best three year stretch (2019-2021).
Apples to apples.
In those same three-year stretches, their yards per target were similar, too. Adams averaged 8.8 yards per target, while Sharpe averaged 7.6 yards per target. In this metric, Adams was a bit more of an efficient receiver (or his quarterback was more accurate).
Davante Adams has put together three seasons with 90+ receiving yards per game. Sterling Sharpe had one season in which he averaged 90+ receiving yards per game.
In total, Adams has fumbled the ball five times in his career and Sharpe fumbled nine times in his career.
Adams sure punched back with these last few stats, huh?
After 112 games specifically, Adams caught 69 touchdowns to Sharpe’s 65 after 112 games. We figured that would be worth mentioning.
It is also worth pointing out that the NFL as a whole is more of a passing league than it was in the early 1990s. Interpret that fact however you’d like.
Times Leading the NFL in a Major Category:
Sterling Sharpe: 8 Times
Davante Adams: 2 Times
Now, if it looks like Sharpe has an incredible lead in this department… that’s because he does. However, if Adams would have been completely healthy in a few of his seasons, this would be a bit closer. Maybe a lot closer. But being available to play is part of a player’s legacy.
We consider this a proxy for how dominant a player was over their peers.
Led the NFL in receptions three times, receiving touchdowns twice, receiving yards once, receiving yards per game once and yards per touch once.
Led the NFL in receiving touchdowns once and receiving yards per game once.
Big advantage to Sterling Sharpe over Davante Adams in statistically dominating their literal peers. And remember, Sharpe played while Jerry Rice was still in his prime. Sharpe led the NFL in those categories while Joe Montana and then Steve Young were throwing to Jerry Rice.
Speaking of Rice…
Many don’t know that there was a three-year stretch from 1992-94, with both Sharpe and Rice in their absolute prime, when Sharpe out-performed Rice.
In those three years Rice amassed 38 touchdowns and 294 receptions, by far the second most in each category. Sharpe racked up 42 touchdowns and 314 receptions in that same time period. We’ve published this fact before, but it never gets old.
In 1992 and in 1993 Sterling Sharpe didn’t just lead the NFL in receptions, he set the NFL’s all-time record for receptions in a single-season. In ’92 he set the record with 108 receptions. In ’93 he broke his own record with 112 receptions.
It’s worth noting that Davante Adams has since surpassed those totals, but hasn’t set an NFL record in that department. Why? Well, simply stated, the game has changed a lot over the last couple decades.
Let us put it this way: Adams unequivocally dominates his peers, but Sharpe DOMINATED his peers (peers meaning wide receivers of his day).
Taking Over Games:
Now, let’s take a look at the times when each receiver put the team on their back and said, “Let me take this game over.”
Career games with 2+ TD Receptions:
Sterling Sharpe: 12 Games
Davante Adams: 16 Games
Games with 4+ TD Receptions:
Sterling Sharpe: 2 Games
Davante Adams: 0 Games
Clearly both were capable of taking over games. Adams did it a few more times, but Sharpe absolutely crushed everyone in his path, not to be denied two more times than Adams. Multiple four-touchdown games, I mean come on.
Interesting how this shook out though. Each one had the nod in one of the categories.
We say this is a draw.
Career games with 125+ Receiving Yards:
Sterling Sharpe: 14 Games
Davante Adams: 15 Games
Again, really damn close. This is fun as hell, isn’t it? We’re spoiled fans no matter how loud the idiots shout, “But only two Super Bowls in 30 years!”
But the comparison between these two all-time great Packers continues.
Sterling Sharpe: Three AP First Team All-Pro selections, five Pro Bowl selections.
Davante Adams: Two AP First Team All-Pro selections, five Pro Bowl selections.
Slight edge to Sharpe here. Remember, Sharpe played one less season than Adams has in the NFL at this point.
Both had one other season where they could have been considered for First Team All-Pro, but weren’t selected (Sharpe in 1994 and Adams in 2018).
Adams is currently riding a five-year Pro Bowl streak, whereas Sharpe had five Pro Bowl seasons in six years.
Apples to apples.
Sterling Sharpe (1992) is one of just four modern day NFL wide receivers to win the ‘Receiving Triple Crown.’ The list includes Sharpe, Jerry Rice, Steve Smith and Cooper Kupp (which he did in 2021).
Davante Adams has not won a triple crown.
Sterling Sharpe twice finished in the Top 10 in AP MVP voting.
In 1992, he finished 4th in MVP voting. In 1993, he finished 8th in MVP voting.
This fact just kind of jumped out at us. Davante Adams hasn’t finished in the Top 10 for MVP. This isn’t a knock on Adams. It’s incredibly rare for wide receivers to be considered for MVP. We just think it speaks to Sharpe’s absolute dominance over the NFL while he played.
Sharpe really was better than most people remember or realize.
Packers Record Books:
Most Receptions In Packers Single-Season History:
1. Davante Adams, 2021: 123 receptions
2. Davante Adams, 2020: 115 receptions
3. Sterling Sharpe, 1993: 112 receptions
4. Davante Adams, 2018: 111 receptions
5. Sterling Sharpe, 1992: 108 receptions
Now that’s a top five right there. You can see why these two are being compared.
It may seem like Adams has the edge here when looking at the raw numbers, but they don’t tell the whole story. Sure, Adams has had more productive seasons when it comes to receptions, but Sharpe’s two seasons on this list (1992 and 1993) were both the most receptions in NFL history in a single-season at the time.
Adams deserves credit for breaking those records, but Sharpe’s seasons were still more dominant in their time and context. This is the same way that Don Hutson’s 74 receptions in 1942 are more impressive than Adam’s 2021 and Sharpe’s 1993 seasons (in our opinion).
Most Touchdowns in Packers Single-Season History:
1. Sterling Sharpe, 1994: 18 TDs
2. Davante Adams, 2020: 18 TDs
3. Don Hutson, 1942: 17 TDs
4. Jordy Nelson, 2011: 15 TDs
5. Three WRs Tied: 14 TDs
First off, Don Hutson is the most dominant football player of all-time. Jim Brown is right there with him. After that, argue for whatever player you’d like. Reggie White, Anthony Muñoz, Lawrence Taylor, Tom Brady, Jerry Rice, Otto Graham and others all have valid arguments.
Secondly, it’s amazing to see Sharpe and Adams tied atop this all-time Packers list. It has to be noted that Adams did this in 14 games. So, we’d say that Adams’ 18 TDs were the more dominant season in this specific context.
Most Receiving Yards in Packers Single-Season History:
1. Davante Adams, 2021: 1553 receiving yards
2. Jordy Nelson, 2014: 1519 receiving yards
3. Robert Brooks, 1995: 1497 receiving yards
4. Sterling Sharpe, 1992: 1461 receiving yards
5. Antonio Freeman, 1998: 1424 receiving yards
Jordy Nelson clearly deserves more love, dammit. We just had to get that out of the way.
Adams takes the crown here but, for what it’s worth, Sharpe had the sixth best receiving yard season in team history and that season (1989) remains the only other 1400+ receiving yard season put up by a Packer, besides these five seasons. Adams currently owns the seventh and ninth best single-seasons in this metric.
The fact that Sharpe, twice, broke the NFL’s all-time record for receptions in a single-season and Adams hasn’t is noteworthy.
But with all of that in mind, we give a slight edge to Adams here when it comes to the Packers’ record books.
Style of Play:
Despite putting up similar numbers, these two are very different wide receivers.
Adams beats cornerbacks with preparation, precise movements, separation off of the snap, body control, jumping ability and elite route-running.
Sharpe beat cornerbacks, and all defenders, with his power. He used his sheer athletic ability, strength, speed and a willingness to take a hit to put up numbers.
Both receivers have (or had) elite hands.
Sharpe was known for fearlessly going across the middle where, at that time, defenders could take your head off and the league would show it over and over as a great highlight. For him to play that way in that era and still put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers is a credit to him. His strong hands, which help when being hit, stick out when watching his highlights.
His reputation as tough as hell was well-deserved.
It’s also true that Sharpe was a bit more of a consistent deep threat than Adams. He would run the ball on occasion, not with great success, but it was an element of his game that Adams doesn’t present. Sharpe’s body never really changed as a pro; when he got to the NFL he was ready.
It’s interesting that Adams is actually the bigger player of the two (one inch taller and slightly heavier). But Adams did take some time to tune his body and sculpt himself into the force he is today.
Adams doesn’t waste a single movement. Every inch of his body, every flinch, every step, head fake or hand-swat is calculated. Like we previously mentioned, he’s more of a tactician than Sharpe and his proficiency in the red zone is a major part of his legacy.
If we were given both players in their prime and needed one touchdown drive, but only one could be on the field at a time we’d likely do this:
Between the 20’s we’d lean toward putting Sharpe on the field, but in the red zone, if Sharpe hadn’t already taken one to the house, we’d lean towards taking Adams. Few wide receivers in NFL history have ever been better than Adams in the red zone. Like, maybe two or three?
Defensive backs feared both guys, but for different reasons.
Sharpe might just run them over, whereas Adams might embarrass them by breaking their ankles. Different approaches, same result.
Adams was double-teamed off the line of scrimmage a la prime Calvin Johnson in 2021 against the Baltimore Ravens and still caught six balls. But in 1989, Sharpe was the only player on the team that scored more than five touchdowns. Everyone knew the ball was coming his way and he still led the NFL in receptions.
Both had the ability to rise above whatever the defenses and defensive coordinators threw at them.
We’re not callously comparing Sharpe and Adams’ injuries here; injuries are simply part of their stories.
Both players have had injuries severely affect their careers. Sterling Sharpe’s career, of course, ended following a neck injury at the end of the 1994 season at the age of 29.
However before that injury, Sharpe was remarkably healthy. In fact, he never missed an NFL game in his career. He played 16 games in all seven of his seasons in the league.
Unbelievable. He was always on the field, which he should get credit for.
This is just a theory, but perhaps Brett Favre internalized a bit more of his ‘Iron Man’ playing-through-pain persona and strength from Sterling Sharpe. He was his favorite target for the first three years of his Packers career and Favre saw how he approached the game.
Once Sharpe’s career ended, whether intentionally or not, Favre kept up his legacy of not missing games and playing through pain. Favre never missed a game as a Packer, a record that’ll likely never be broken.
While we are talking about Favre, Sharpe was on the Packers’ 75th anniversary team with the Gunslinger and Adams was on the Packers’ 100th anniversary team with Rodgers.
There’s a certain beautiful symmetry to that fact. Does it mean much? Not necessarily, but we like the way it worked out.
Davante Adams never had that devastating of an injury like Sharpe, obviously, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been impacted by injuries. Adams, currently 29, has yet to play a complete NFL season. Not one. He and Sharpe could not be more opposite in that regard. Adams has battled multiple concussions and numerous leg injuries over the years.
Adams should get credit for playing through what we’d assume to be substantial pain on multiple occasions.
Still, by the age of 29 both played nearly the same amount of games. Adams came into the league at the age of 22, so he’s played eight seasons where Sharpe only played seven. However Adams’ injuries made it so their games played, up to this point, are about the same.
Injuries have played a big part in the story of both players. If Adams was able to stay healthy he’d easily have five or six 1,000+ yard receiving seasons, instead of three. For reference, Sharpe had five 1,000+ yard seasons and nearly had six.
Life in the NFL means battling injuries and both of these players know that quite well, unfortunately. But Sharpe’s luck in that department was far worse as he was still in his prime and could have played at a very high level for another 3-5 years.
That is the career phase that Adams is now entering. Maybe we can use Adams’ production as a sort of barometer for how Sharpe would have fared in his seasons aged 30-34. But the truth is, we’ll never know and that fact will always hurt.
Davante Adams has a clear advantage in this department, in terms of total stats, as he played in far more playoff games than Sterling Sharpe. It’s neither player’s fault.
Davante Adams: 8 touchdown receptions in 11 postseason games
Sterling Sharpe: 4 touchdown receptions in two postseason games
It’s clear that Sharpe has the advantage in stats per playoff game, despite the small sample size.
For reference, Antonio Freeman is the Packers’ all-time postseason leader in touchdown receptions (10 in 14 games).
Adams put up 82.7 receiving yards per game in his 11 playoff games. That’s an incredible number that illustrates how impressive he is on a consistent basis in the postseason. Sharpe’s 114.5 receiving yards per game (in his two playoff games) was probably not sustainable for Sharpe, but it does show that when he was given the opportunity he absolutely showed up.
You could score this a draw for the two if you wanted. We’re not sure how to decode it.
But the fact remains that both stepped up when given opportunities in the postseason, but they didn’t receive equal opportunities (unlike their regular season games which are similar in this moment).
Sterling Sharpe’s game-winning 40 yard touchdown catch to defeat the Detroit Lions in Detroit remains an all-time moment in Packers postseason history. It was his third touchdown of the day in his first ever postseason game.
Not to be outdone, Davante Adams has had some postseason magic of his own. In the Divisional Round of the 2019 postseason against the Seattle Seahawks Adams put the team on his back. He caught the opening touchdown of the game and then the eventual game-winning touchdown, while putting up 160 receiving yards.
Interestingly, Adams has caught nine balls in four consecutive postseason games.
It is fun to imagine what Sharpe would have done if he would have got to play 11 postseason games like Adams. Alas, we can dream.
Beyond The Stats:
Much more goes into a player’s legacy than their stats. We’re going to dive into a few things about both receivers that we feel are worthy of pointing out.
Sterling Sharpe led the NFL in receptions and was named First Team All-Pro with two different quarterbacks throwing to him.
Think about that for a moment.
It was in 1989 when Sharpe had his first elite season. Which was three years before Brett Favre even got to town. Wild. The “Magic Man” himself Don Majkowski was Sharpe’s quarterback in his breakout season. No one can ever say that Sharpe was reliant on a Hall of Fame passer.
Adams has had the benefit of playing his entire career–so far–with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
This is an important distinction.
Sharpe also helped the Packers develop into a team that knew how to win. After two and a half decades of futility the Packers began to show promise as a contender in the NFC. The Packers’ best player at the beginning of this transformation was Sharpe.
The Packers used the 7th overall pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft to select Sterling Sharpe.
He outperformed his draft position.
Sharpe was the first big time first round pick that became a star and became a winner in a very long time in Green Bay. Again, he was drafted in 1988. As soon as 1989 he was leading the NFL in receptions (90) in just his second season. The Packers would go 9-7 in three consecutive seasons in his final three years in Green Bay. This was after just two winning seasons since 1973.
Then came Brett Favre, Reggie White, the growth of LeRoy Butler and the team was on its way from there. But Sharpe shouldn’t be forgotten as he helped the team learn how to win. The Packers of course went on to win Super Bowl XXXI in 1996, two years after his retirement.
Davante Adams was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He dramatically outperformed his draft position, clearly. The Packers were deep at wide receiver when he was selected, but after two just okay seasons, he broke out. Adams scored 12 touchdowns in his third season, something Sharpe did in year two.
But that’s just part of Adams’ story.
Sterling Sharpe came into the league and immediately people could see how special he was. Some people (dumb fans… I mean, impatient) were calling for Adams to be cut after his first two seasons. But he kept working and built himself into a superstar.
Both are superstars, but it took longer for Adams to get there. And it’s pretty incredible that despite that fact his career numbers are similar to Sharpe’s.
We’re honestly not sure which route to stardom is more impressive.
Davante Adams’ relationship with the media and the fans is on another level than how Sharpe interacted with both. Sharpe is remembered as a confident introvert that didn’t like the attention or adoration during his playing career.
This part of each of their legacies doesn’t affect how we view them as players, but it is interesting enough to include.
Adams is known as one of the best press conferences in the NFL. He routinely gives well thought out, honest and interesting answers week-in and week-out. This shows his commitment to the organization and the fans, giving us plenty to talk about during the season. It’s generally accepted that Adams is absolutely great with the fans, too, when they see him in the real world.
No, Adams didn’t have to help “build” a winning culture in Green Bay like Sharpe, but he certainly helped sustain a winning culture. In the last few years he’s taken on the mantle as, arguably, the best receiver in football. The Packers have won 13 games in each of the last three seasons and Adams has been one of the most important players on the team.
In fact, there are times when Adams seems like the best player on the team at any position… and this is with an MVP quarterback throwing to him. It’s incredible and it speaks to how great Adams is.
The Packers have won the NFC North five times in Adams’ eight seasons, including the last three seasons.
Adams, some could argue, has benefitted from an entire career with Aaron Rodgers. Their chemistry does make them nearly impossible to defend at times. We’re not trying to take anything away from Adams, but it is interesting to think about, huh?
But remember, Sharpe broke the NFL’s all-time reception record in consecutive seasons. It doesn’t get much bigger than that for an NFL wide receiver.
We’d say a good response to Sharpe breaking the reception record in consecutive seasons is this:
No receiver in NFL history has more games with 10+ receptions, 100+ yards and 2+ touchdowns than Davante Adams’ eight such games. Not Randy Moss, Not Jerry Rice, Not Sterling Sharpe. Only Davante Adams.
Absolutely stunning. Clearly Adams is a unique talent and worthy of this debate.
So… About the Hall of Fame:
Most people would agree that Davante Adams is on a Pro Football Hall of Fame trajectory. If that is the case and you can plainly see how much more Sterling Sharpe dominated his peers, shouldn’t that put Sharpe in?
We obviously think that Sharpe is a Hall of Fame worthy player.
Sterling Sharpe led the NFL in a major receiving category seven times in his seven year career.
Terrell Davis led the NFL in a major rushing category five times in his seven year career.
Gale Sayers led the NFL in a major rushing category seven times in his seven year career.
Both Davis and Sayers are in The Hall.
Note: both Sharpe and Sayers also led the NFL in yards per touch once, too.
OK, now we’re going down a rabbit hole that we don’t need to. But it does show where Sharpe belongs in the pantheon of all-time dominant offensive NFL players.
Remember, Davante Adams has led the NFL in a major receiving category “just” two times and people think he’s on his way to Canton.
Just let that sit in your brain for a little bit.
But that does also lead us to think, well, if Sharpe should be in the Hall of Fame and Adams has already put up similar numbers, hopefully with a lot of career left, then he definitely is on a trajectory that involves a gold jacket.
Pretty damn cool if you ask us.
In an interview with Tom Grossi, team President Mark Murphy said, “the only time a third contract makes sense is for Hall of Famers.”
Will Adams get that third contract? He obviously should. So that means…
Do We Still Believe The Thesis?
For our money, Sterling Sharpe is still the second best wide receiver (or end) in the history of the Green Bay Packers. But it’s closer than we ever could have imagined and that’s a massive credit to Davante Adams.
Don Hutson is, undisputedly, in the top slot. James Lofton is jockeying for the third position, but Adams probably has him sitting in fourth. And Lofton is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame! That’s how good Adams is and how good Sharpe was.
After those four guys, Billy Howton, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and Antonio Freeman all have arguments of their own.
If Adams returns to Green Bay for another season, we may see this differently by this time next year. It’s a fluid situation, but a fun one to monitor. If Adams plays another 2-3 dominant seasons in Green Bay it’s hard to see him not overtaking Sharpe as the second best (or most accomplished) receiver in Packers history.
Though on a per-year basis, Sharpe may always have the edge no matter what Adams accomplishes in the future if he’s re-signed by the Packers. It’s the dominance over his peers and awards that Sharpe amassed, for us.
Either way, what a special 15 combined years that we’ve been able to watch these two in Green Bay. Both have been so much fun and brought so much joy to all of us fans.
How about this? Adams might be the better wide receiver, but Sharpe was definitively the more dominant receiver — a fascinating distinction.
Every time Davante Adams does something extraordinary it reminds us just how elite Sterling Sharpe was for the Packers. Let’s hope he keeps reminding us of Sharpe for years to come in Green Bay.
To have both of these guys play for the franchise in a 30 year span is something to celebrate, even if neither got to win a Super Bowl… yet.
Go Pack Go!