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This Year’s “Next”

The best way to predict the future is to analyze the past. We can form opinions and identify trends based off similar instances and fantasy football is no different. Very rarely do we come across someone that isn’t the “next somebody,” “the next Peyton Manning,” “the next LaDanian Tomlinson,” “the next Randy Moss.” It is so rare we see the first anything these days. The closest thing to a “first” we’ve seen, in my opinion, is Cam Newton. There wasn’t anything close to him in the history of the league. He’ll be the measuring stick for big, athletic, durable quarterbacks who can throw, in the same ways Michael Vick is the poster child for the lightning quick, strong armed, mobile, injury prone quarterback with accuracy questions.

I bring this up because we’re now dealing with this year’s “next.” Second year Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb is being called “the next Percy Harvin.” The problem with that is Harvin wasn’t a first. There have been quite a few Cobbs and Harvins in the history of the league. Some of them developed into elite offensive weapons and some never quite put it all together.

So where does Randall Cobb end up?

Let’s take a look at their first year in the league. In order to see where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been. I am going to compare Randall Cobb’s first year to the first years of three other players who he reminds me of – Steve Smith, Devin Hester, and Harvin. They all offer dynamic return ability, they all strike the fear of God into a defensive coordinator, and none of them have prototypical WR1 size. Because of their size, they were all drafted to be kick returners or to be used in special gimmick or complementary packages because nobody thought they could handle the workload or physical demands of being an every down player in the NFL. With the new contact rules for wide receivers, it actually greatly benefits the smaller quicker wide receivers because after five yards it becomes a foot race. It’s much harder to get a jam on a small, quick player and if you whiff, you better have some help on the back end because you’re not going to catch them. When looking at their measureables, it’s like they were all cut from the same cookie cutter. All of them are about 5’10” and in the 185-190 pound range.

Name

Height

Weight

Randall Cobb

5’10”

192 lbs

Percy Harvin

5’11”

184 lbs

Devin Hester

5’11”

190 lbs

Steve Smith

5’9”

185 lbs

Name

Year

Games

Catches

Yards

TD

Rush Att

Yards

TD

KO Yards

TD

PR Yards

TD

Randall Cobb

2011

15

25

375

1

2

5

0

941

1

80

1

Percy Harvin

2009

15

60

790

6

15

135

0

1156

2

0

0

Devin Hester

2006

16

0

0

0

0

0

0

526

2

609

3

Steve Smith

2001

15

10

154

0

4

43

0

1431

0

364

0

When comparing the first year’s stats of the four players, one thing jumps out immediately – the kick return yardage. These guys were dynamic. The amount of kick return yardage Steve Smith had without a touchdown is amazing. Every one of these guys had over 1,100 all purpose yards in their rookie years and, with the exception of Smith, at least three all-purpose touchdowns.

Percy Harvin was the only player drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, going 22nd overall to the Minnesota Vikings, so expectations were a little bit different for him. After all, you just don’t draft a kick returner in round one. Between catching 60 balls for 790 yards, the 1,156 kick return yards and the eight total touchdowns, the Vikings knew they had something special, but even they didn’t know exactly how to maximize his impact. Like last year, Head Coach Leslie Frazier kept Harvin on a pitch count, often pulling him when the team got into the red zone – this infuriated dynasty owners. How are you going to take your most dynamic playmaker off the field when you get close to the end zone? Through lack of options, a rookie quarterback in Christian Ponder and a late season knee injury to Adrian Peterson, Harvin still finished as a top ten wide receiver in PPR leagues last year.

Chicago has tried time and time again to get Devin Hester’s electrifying return skills to translate to the offense, but just can’t get it to work. The more work he gets, the less effective he is in the return game. In the two years he has more than 50 catches, he does not have a single special teams touchdown. In the other four years of his career (when he caught less than 50 balls), he has scored no fewer than three special teams touchdowns. He is without a doubt the greatest kick returner the league has ever seen. He already owns the all-time record for punts returned for touchdowns and all-time special teams touchdowns, besting Eric Metcalf and Brian Mitchell, respectively. Hester is not a difference making play maker on offense and the Bears now know that. He will still have scenarios and special packages installed for him, but his biggest impact will forever be on special teams.

As I mentioned earlier, Steve Smith made his biggest rookie impact on special teams with 1,431 kick return yards and 364 punt return yards. It was not until his Sophomore season that he earned a role on offense, hauling in 54 catches for 872 yards and three touchdowns. In his third year, he improved to the tune of 88 catches, 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns – he also played in all 16 games for the first time in his three year career. His special teams role diminished in each of those years. In the first game of his fourth year, he broke an ankle and missed the rest of the season. Since he returned for the 2005 season, he has been a top ten fantasy wide receiver every year except for 2010, which was the Jimmy Clausen season. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, though, and the greatest thing Jimmy Clausen did for the Panthers was playing them into the first pick of the 2011 Draft so they could select Cam Newton.

Randall Cobb was selected 64th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Packers. In the league’s deepest receiving corp, Cobb knew paying his dues was inevitable and to earn playing time over the likes of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and James Jones he was going to have to be uniquely special on offense and contribute on special teams.

He did just that.

On opening night, in front of a HUGE TV audience, Randall Cobb stole the show. He caught two passes for 35 yards, including a 32 yard touchdown pass. Then, midway through the third quarter, after a New Orleans field goal, Randall Cobb went viral. He took the kick off 108 yards to the house. People went nuts for the rookie out of Kentucky. He was being added off the waiver wire in every type of league imaginable – redraft, dynasty, it didn’t matter. The people loved them some Randall Cobb!

Of course, Cobb was not able to produce like this every game and after things settled down Cobb ended the season the same place he started, on the waiver wire. All off-season he was picking up steam as a sleeper for 2012, from ESPN, to DLF, to Rotoworld, everyone was excited about Cobb’s potential in the Packer offense.

In week one’s marquee Sunday afternoon game, all anticipation erupted for Cobb once again when he returned a punt 75 yards for a score and reeled in nine catches for 77 yards in a very Harvin-like “jack of all trades” role. He lined up out wide, in the slot, and many times next to Aaron Rodgers in the Packers’ backfield. He didn’t fare too in the Packers second game as he posted 28 yards on one rush and 20 yards on one reception.

But what does it all mean?

The way I look at Cobb’s first Sunday performance is like this – San Francisco arguably has the most dominant defense in the league. They take what you do best and they stop it. They force you to go to “plan B.” With the Packers, they took away the down field strikes and forced them to try to run the ball. Unfortunately, Cedric Benson is not going to put a dent in the 49ers dominant run defense. Enter Randall Cobb. The Packers essentially used Randall Cobb as their run game on Sunday, catching dump offs, screen passes, and quick hitters.

Will it happen every week? No way. The Packers are not going to play another defense like San Francisco’s. They are going to be able to run their downfield, big play, striking offense and they are going to get Cedric Benson rolling in some capacity. Cobb is extremely talented and his day is coming, just like it came for Percy Harvin and Steve Smith. He is not Devin Hester; his future in this league is on offense, not special teams. Anyone expecting this type of performances from Randall Cobb every week has another thing coming. How often are Aaron Rodgers and company playing in catch up mode? Pretty rarely. The Packers will have a package for him and he’ll play accordingly when other players are injured, but he’s still coming along.

We probably won’t truly see his greatest offensive impact before next year. All signs are pointing towards this being Greg Jennings’ last year in Green Bay, Donald Driver is one hundred years old, James Jones does not have the natural talent Cobb does and is made to look better by outstanding quarterback play. That leaves Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, along with Rodgers of course, as the future nucleus of the Green Bay offense.

Be patient – Cobb is dynasty gold, just like Percy Harvin and Steve Smith. If the Cobb owner in your league grows impatient once again, pounce on him. History shows there is room for the 5’10”, 192 pound kick returning wide receiver on your fantasy team.

Latest posts by Eric Olinger (see all)
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Alan Bauerle
9 years ago

Traded Jared Cook for Cobb this past offseason. Hope you are right on this one. My team needs a spark!!

Sensei John Kreese
9 years ago

At this rate, Danny Amendola might be the WR1 in PPR/return leagues.

Allen Sarvinas
9 years ago

Guys at work ask me about players all the time in shallow leagues, so I said at the start of the season Amendola should be owned in every league. Last Friday, my Boss came to me and said I picked up Amendola, I said “Oh yea, it’s hard to start him right now, but all the beat reporters and Stl players said Amendola is the real deal”. He said, “yeah I just let Spillar go bc I really like James Starks.” I told him never to ask me a suggestion again! lol

Avery Beck
9 years ago

K. Wright and a LB 3 for Cobb? How’s that sound?

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