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Second and Third Year Player Development: Week Eleven

In this weekly column, I typically explore some young players who haven’t made much of a consistent impact to date. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or moderate trade. Acquiring any of these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years. However, this week I’m going look at one team that features a young player who is very much on the radar and has a pair of running backs who deserve further evaluation. I will focus on their most recent matchup to draw the majority of my insight.

Randall Cobb WR, GB

First things first, how can he be on this list, you may ask? True story, an owner dropped him after his disappointing week three game against the Seahawks. This was in a 12 team league with 34 roster spots, so these things occasionally occur. I scooped Cobb up of the waiver wire as no one other than the owner who threw him in the trash heap and myself realized he was a free agent.

Cobb has slowly transitioned into a WR1 when at the beginning of the season it appeared that he would struggle to see the field with any consistency. After injuries struck starting wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the second year receiver revved up his play and along the way demanded extra attention from Aaron Rodgers. What he has done since then has exceeded his quarterback’s, his team’s and fantasy owner’s expectations. After week eleven, he has 54 receptions for 574 yards and seven touchdowns. Number 18 is so versatile that he has taken carries out of the backfield which account for an additional 115 rushing yards from just eight carries.

One might say he was the primary reason the Packers won over the Lions in week eleven. Cobb lined up in all the skill positions. He ran his initial pass route from the half back spot. The Packers like to move him in motion from the slot as well so he can get a free release. He is quite effective on bubble screens as the coaching staff create plays that take advantage of his burst and outstanding lateral movement.

Rodgers believes in his young receiver as he was targeted on a crucial fourth down play early in the game. The pass just slipped past Cobb’s fingertips. His high effort is clear on every play. He excels at the little things, such as ferociously blocking defenders on run plays and pass plays alike. Almost every time he touches the ball, he makes the first line of defense miss as he fights for extra yardage, taking a great angle or exploiting the sideline. Big time players play big which he showed on a critical third and one situation as he busted out a 15 yard gain racing past the first line of defense.

Cobb made a spectacular 22 yard touchdown to grab the lead from Detroit between two defensive backs with just two minutes left in the contest. His nine catches for 74 yards on 12 targets led the Packers in all receiving categories. He had two carries for 19 yards to add insult to injury. It might be time to anoint him as Rodger’s favorite target. Many dynasty players are still not convinced of his new found value. As a savvy owner, take advantage of the perception sooner or suffer later, as his value will settle as a true WR1 within the next seven months once Jennings leaves town.

A Tale of Two Packers Running Backs

Alex Green, RB GB

It’s quite the running back carousel in Packerland. Cedric Benson began the season as the starter, but was placed on injured reserve after week five. The former rainbow warrior, Alex Green, got an opportunity to take the reins and failed miserably. In his six games receiving rushing carries, he ran 86 times for 264 yards which is just a smidge over three yards per carry. Keep in mind this is with Rodgers throwing the ball all over the field to provide plenty for the opposing defenses to worry about. The opposition was hardly game planning to remove his unique skill set from affecting the outcome of the game. He has chipped in 12 catches for 98 yards to help his overall statistics.

Against the Lions, Green did not get a single carry. He was used mostly as a third down back. On his only opportunity of the game, he missed a screen pass that could have gone for a long gain. His pass blocking skills were beneficial keeping his quarterback upright. I’m not ready to pull the plug on him yet, but he is more of a stash and hold as he is one year removed from coming off a serious knee injury. I wouldn’t trade for him, but he might be worth holding onto if you are holding onto Benson. He is at best a RB5.

James Starks, RB GB

Talk about a running back left out there on waiver wires for a long time. Starks was replaced in the preseason by Benson and was to never be heard from again. Thanks much in part to the Benson injury and the ineffectiveness of Green, Starks was reborn, or was he? His 48 carries for 154 yards is only two tenths of a yard more a carry than what Green was producing.

Starks started off the Lions game with a quick sweep to the right. He ran over a linebacker and a safety on the way to a five yard gain. The former University of Buffalo standout demonstrated explosion running straight up the gut and looked powerful at times. As the young running back ran towards contact, it seemed like he relished punishing his tacklers along the way. The Lions who attempted to arm tackle him became objects that he simply swatted away. He bounced off defensive linemen using his upper body to brace himself, then kept chugging along despite being brought down by the facemask.

He had trouble when the defenders continued to get penetration at the snap of the ball as he was forced to run outside. By taking away the inside runs, the Lions put him on roller skates and kept him from going north and south. A big concern is his inability to pass block, which is extremely important to the pass-based Packers. The constant grinding on his body took its toll as he finished the game with 25 carries for only 74 yards.

The coaches seem to want to a balanced attack, so Starks may get his chance to play his way onto the team next season. He has a surprising dismal career total of a single touchdown on 243 touches. Get him for depth and use him as a flex option only. I would use him as an RB3 this year until Green overtakes him or Benson comes back to health. If you need more than that, I would look elsewhere. For dynasty, he very much like Green as an RB5.

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