Randall Cobb, Aaron Rodgers and False Confirmation
I love Randall Cobb the football player. Having owned him in a kick return yardage league as a rookie and then opting to keep him for his breakout sophomore campaign, my allegiances are quite blind. When he gets the ball on offense exciting things happen.
I no longer own Randall Cobb in any leagues, especially dynasty formats. Public valuation of his skill no longer meets the reality of what he is capable of doing, separated from Aaron Rodgers. He will probably struggle to ever score 10 touchdowns and after suffering several injuries, Green Bay is likely going to be unwilling to use him in a 3rd down back role. Shawn Siegele wrote an incredible piece on Cobb and De’Anthony Thomas that inspired me to take a deeper look at Cobb and see just how disastrous an exit from GB would be.
No one would argue that Randall Cobb is as good as Dez Bryant, AJG, Julio Jones, etc., but even worse, he doesn’t even profile as a player who COULD reach that tier. He’s short, slow for his size, the least laterally agile out of all of his comps… really, Randall Cobb is just sort of an unspectacular athlete for an NFL receiver. Shawn and I both had him in the 20’s of our dynasty rankings for WR’s (I assume mostly out of respect for Aaron Rodgers) opting to rank guys like Mike Floyd, Eric Decker, and Michael Crabtree ahead of him.
Herein lies the problem with investing in Cobb: You follow a circular set of logic that removes the absolutely amazing ball scorching talent of Aaron Rodgers. Prospect is drafted, invest in prospect, prospect performs like All-Star, prospect is All-Star, confirming that you were correct to invest in prospect. Speaking logically, that syllogism for Cobb is incorrect. For all intents and purposes, Cobb has historically meant about as much to Green Bay’s offense as James Jones. Aaron Rodgers averaged 10.22 AYA throwing to Cobb and 10.07 AYA when throwing to James Jones. Read any good dynasty sleeper articles on James Jones in Oakland lately? No, probably not. It’s sort of easy to brush that off and say “Well, Jones isn’t very good and they do different things and Cobb is good in space and kick returns and blaarrrggggh” but the fact remains that a large part of the reason a short, slowish WR was able to do well in Green Bay was the quarterback.
Perhaps the best example comes from Cobb’s former teammate Greg Jennings. Jennings was yet another WR who didn’t really meet the Rotoviz standard1 but had several WR1 seasons with Aaron Rodgers. How did things go once he went to Minnesota?
A couple things here: the quarterback play in Minneosta last year was *particularly* bad, but that actually helps the “Don’t invest in Cobb” argument because if he hits the open market, a team that is desperate for offense is more likely to sign him. What sort of teams are desperate for offense? The sort of teams that employ Christian Ponder. Jennings was appreciably worse in every category when Rodgers wasn’t tossing him the ball.
Sticking to another small-ish, speed/technique reliant WR, let’s examine what Reggie Wayne has done with Peyton Manning and without him.
Yes, 16 of those non-Peyton games were played with the likes of Curtis Painter; but that also includes a season and a half of Andrew Luck and Wayne was STILL worse. Some might point to Wayne’s concurrent age related decline, but the point remains that a good amount of the difference is likely to be QB-related.
And finally, I’d like to take a look at Steve Smith from 2009-2012. I choose not to include 2013 as I do believe that Smith was clearly suffering from age related decline in a way that I found more conclusive than Wayne’s 2012-13 seasons. Smith has been a WR1 with solid QB play his entire career, but look what happened when he got Cam Newton.
Touchdowns stayed the same for the most part, but the value of a target increased substantially. A 9 point fantasy WR isn’t really more than a WR3 in any format, but a WR who averages closer to 13 fantasy points over 32 games? That’s a fantasy stud.
What’s one thing Cobb has in common with Wayne, Smith and Jennings? They all played with elite QB’s, they all played like WR1’s with them, none of them met the usual size requirements for a WR1 and they all lost WR1 points when they lost their elite QB. Is this a conclusive study? Of course not. Many WRs realize they have a good thing with an elite QB and choose to stay in that location for as long as possible and the sample sizes are so volatile in football that sometimes it’s hard to draw any conclusion at all. There is undoubtedly noise in all 3 of the above examples but I do feel comfortable saying that even very good WRs who don’t match the preferred WR size/speed combo do have a hard time keeping up fantasy production without elite QB’s. Larry Fitzgerald went out and had a WR1 season with Kevin Kolb and Derek Anderson; Randall Cobb probably isn’t doing that.
If Cobb signed a lifetime contract with the Packers and I was assured that Rodgers would stay there for another decade, Cobb would have to jump in my rankings. However, his contract is done after this year and the team already has better players waiting in the wings behind him (Davante Adams says wassup) and I even love longshot prospect Jeff Janis. This situation has been talked about ad nauseum on RotoViz and even on our new forums (yes, they’re real and they are FANTASTIC) and it’s a bulletin point in a larger conversation: deciphering how much production is related to WR skill or QB skill. In the case of RotoViz v Cobb, the winner is Aaron Rodgers and investors in Davante Adams.
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- other than exquisite dominator rating coming out of college (back)