Derek Carr ran over excitedly when he saw Davante Adams in a Las Vegas Raiders jersey for the first time this spring and hugged his new-but-also-old receiver in a warm embrace.
“It’s good to see you in that Silver and Black,” Carr said.
“Oh yeah, this is your first time, huh?” Adams smiled back. “The jersey, it really hit me today.”
That moment was more than a decade in the making.
After spending two years together at Fresno State from 2012-2013, the two parted ways when they were taken by different teams in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft — Carr by the Raiders at No. 36 and Adams by the Green Bay Packers at No. 53. Ever since, they remained close friends but also privately longed for a reunion on an NFL team. They exchanged messages, trained together during the offseason and were even neighbors in Danville, California for years before the Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020.
What was once only a fleeting idea finally became reality this offseason when the Raiders traded a first- and a second-round pick to the Packers for Adams. The two burst into laughter when they FaceTimed each other for the first time after the trade, Carr said, calling it “a blessing” to play with “one of my best friends in the whole world.” Adams, meanwhile, said the trade was “a dream come true” in his introductory news conference.
The two set the college football world on fire during their time together in Fresno. Not only did the Bulldogs go 20-6 over that stretch, but Carr led the nation in completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2013 while Adams led the nation in receptions and receiving touchdowns, and was second in receiving yards.
Now together in Las Vegas, Carr and Adams hope to recapture the fire they harnessed during their time in college — this time in professional football.
“We've had success together, but that was at the college level, completely different,” Carr said in April. “But we do have confidence that we can do it at this level, too.”
On-field connections and off-field bonding
When Carr and Adams practiced together for the first time as Raiders teammates, Carr told his brothers throwing with Adams was “like riding a bike.”
But that chemistry took years to develop.
Although Carr waited a year to play with Adams after the wideout redshirted his freshman season, Adams still asked Carr to throw him passes after practice in 2011. Carr noticed Adams’ raw physicality and jump-ball ability to bring down hard-to-catch passes almost instantly, and those early sessions were the beginning of their relationship on the field and proved to be the catalyst for their eventual friendship off it.
“It kind of just happened organically,” former Fresno State receivers coach Keith Williams told Yahoo Sports. “There wasn't like one incident where they just became best friends, but they got to know each other through the process of being on a team and through the close communication and close contact and being quarterback and wideout.”
It helped, too, that the two bonded over similar interests. First it was simply their desire to reach the NFL and become forces in college football. They also both felt they had more to prove while playing at a small-profile school like Fresno State in the lesser-known Mountain West Conference.
That magnetism sparked the connection, but Adams and Carr were more similar than they originally realized.
They both loved basketball — Adams’ athleticism was widely recognized among the Fresno football community and teammates say Carr always believed he was one of the best basketball players on the team. The two golfed a lot together and debated the best cars and music as well, usually during Wednesday lunches at their favorite Japanese joint, Teriyaki Don, about a 10-minute drive from campus.
Fresno State teammates would joke that Adams only hung out with Carr because he was the quarterback and would target him often because they spent so much time together. But through the ribbing, they all knew that wasn’t actually true.
“It was real. It was actually a genuine friendship between them two,” former teammate Isaiah Burse said. “It's not just, ‘oh, teammate.’ This is really a life-long friendship.”
Their connection spilled onto the field immediately. Adams scored on a 27-yard pass from Carr just nine plays into Fresno State’s first game of the 2012 season against Weber State, and went on to finish with seven receptions for 118 receiving yards and two touchdowns in a 37-10 win. Adams and Carr connected on 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns by the end of that season.
A lot of that success derived from an offense designed to give Carr unilateral authority at the line of scrimmage. He signaled plays to his receivers with hand motions — like a maestro conducting an orchestra or a baseball coach instructing his batters at the plate — to make in-game adjustments and exploit coverage weaknesses by their opponents. Adams and Carr got so good at it that all Carr needed to do was look at Adams a certain way for him to understand what he wanted him to do. Almost like twin telepathy.
To this day, their teammates can’t explain how they did it.
“It’s crazy. It's hard to explain,” said former Fresno State wideout Josh Harper. “He'll give you, like, a certain look and you know what he's expecting, you know, like you just know what's coming from him and vice versa. Like he knows what to expect.”
This was never more prevalent than in the Bulldogs’ 69-28 drubbing of New Mexico in 2013.
On a first-and-10 play at the New Mexico 45-yard line early in the second quarter, Carr noticed Adams had a lot of space in front of him on the left side of the field. So he cocked his head for a split second in Adams’ direction before snapping the ball and immediately firing a laser to his trusty wideout on a smoke route. Adams caught it at the line of scrimmage and made two quick moves before scampering for the 44-yard score.
That wasn’t a one-off moment for the pair. It happened frequently throughout their tenure together.
Former NFL cornerback Bene Benwikere saw it first-hand when he played for San Jose State against Fresno State in 2013. The tandem torched the Spartans' defense early and Adams himself tallied eight receptions for 157 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. Though Benwikere missed most of the first half with an illness, he was in awe of the spectacle Carr and Adams put on that day.
“They were just so much in sync more than any other team that I really ever played against in college,” Benwikere told Yahoo Sports. “Besides [Tom] Brady and the [New England] Patriots, I don't think I really saw an offense [in the NFL] that was that well-tuned.”
College QB-WR pairs becoming more frequent
Pairing a quarterback with his collegiate counterpart is a relatively new phenomenon in the NFL.
Prior to this season, there were only eight such instances in NFL history. But in 2022, there will be five combinations in the league: Adams and Carr, Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow (LSU) with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jaylen Waddle and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) with the Miami Dolphins, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Hurts (Alabama) with the Philadelphia Eagles and Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) with the Arizona Cardinals.
Of that group, Carr and Adams had the most receptions (233), receiving yards (3,031) and touchdowns (38) together in college. The next closest is Burrow and Chase, who finished with 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns at LSU from 2018-2019.
That’s a recipe for success in Las Vegas. And former Raiders and Packers wideout James Jones, who trained with Carr and Adams before their NFL careers and also played with them both separately on the Raiders and Packers, believes the connection between these two will be better than the one Adams had with Rodgers.
“A lot of people looking at it like 'Man, [Adams] left Aaron Rodgers and went to Derek Carr? What is he thinking?” Jones told Yahoo sports. “He's not thinking like that. He's thinking 'This is my dog. I have an opportunity to go play with my dog. I have the opportunity to play with my best friend,’ which you rarely get the opportunity to do, especially at the highest level. This is going to hit off right where they left off in college.”
Carr and Adams certainly have the chance to become one of the better quarterback-receiver tandems in the NFL if they can repeat what they did in college. But when asked how the Carr-Adams duo would be remembered among the greats on NFL history, Carr offered a simple three-letter answer: