Calvin and Cobb

Bryan Murphy


This article is written by a new Member Corner writer for us, Bryan Murphy. We welcome Bryan to our Member Corner and look forward to seeing more of his work in the future!

If I gave you $50,000 to go purchase a car, would you rather have a 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo with 100,000 miles or a 2011 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged with 35,000 miles? That’s a pretty tough decision, isn’t it? They are both very nice vehicles and will likely keep running until they hit at least 150,000 miles. All things equal, the Porsche is the more expensive and more desirable automobile. Both are probably horrible on gas. The Porsche is faster and has that “sex appeal,” but the Range Rover is better to pull your boat with and seats five comfortably (of course you have a boat too, this is hypothetical). The Range Rover is newer and it should last longer than the Porsche, but when you can go zero to 60 in three seconds, are you really thinking about five years from now? Have you made up your mind yet? Well, while you’re debating that, I’m going to take a look at a similar debate that dynasty owners have to make a decision on. All things equal, do you prefer Randall Cobb or Calvin Johnson?

Looking at July’s ADP data, Cobb has an ADP of 13.33, while Johnson had an ADP of 14.33. Cobb was taken over Johnson in five of the six mocks. When did Cobb pass Johnson in ADP? Let’s take a look. Here is a graph of their ADP’s from November 2014 to July 2015:


As you can see, Johnson had an ADP of 3.5 less than nine months ago and now sits at 14. Cobb on the other hand, shot up from 19 to 13. Cobb’s jump in ADP likely stems from his solid 2014 production and the new four-year deal he signed with the Packers in March. Why did Johnson’s ADP drop? That’s a great question. I can only assume it’s due to his age. This ADP data would lead you to believe that the average dynasty owner now prefers Cobb to Johnson – but not so fast my friends, I have more data for you.

Glancing at DLF’s Dynasty Top 100, I noticed Johnson had an average overall ranking of 8, while Cobb came in at 12. I also checked out the dynasty WR rankings (note that different writers ranked the players in this section) and Johnson was in the 7th spot and Cobb in the 10th. This seemed very interesting to me, so I went on a few other dynasty websites and checked more rankings and ADP. I found Johnson 9th and Cobb at 15th at one, while Johnson was 13th and Cobb 19th at another.

[inlinead]So, is it just fantasy football writers who prefer Johnson to Cobb? Nope. It appears the dynasty community is just truly split on this, with several variables swaying decisions one way or the other. Is it a contending team or a rebuild? PPR or non PPR? What does the rest of the team look like, young or old? And the list goes on.

Let’s examine four major categories that dynasty owners typically use to evaluate players. The categories are as follows: production, age, injury risk and situation/usage.



Speaking strictly in terms of their ability and career production, I don’t think anyone is going to debate Cobb is a better overall NFL or fantasy receiver than Calvin Johnson. However, allow me to show you some statistics. On a per game played average, Johnson has averaged 5.4 receptions, 88 yards and .63 touchdowns for his career, with Cobb averaging 4.4 receptions, 63 yards, and.48 scores. The rushing stats for both players were pretty comparable the first four years, although I expect Cobb to continue to receive around ten carries per year going forward, only adding to his production.

megatronNow let’s take a look at more recent production because I think it is a better comparison, not only in helping to determine their future dynasty prospects, but also due to the fact Cobb wasn’t really a full-time player in his first two seasons. Over the last two years, Johnson has averaged 10.5 targets, 5.7 receptions, 95 yards and .74 touchdowns per game, while Cobb has averaged 7.8 targets, 5.5 receptions, 78 yards, and .72 scores. In Cobb’s two years as a starter (on a 16-game basis), Johnson has outpaced him by 43 targets, three receptions, 272 yards, and .3 touchdowns per year. To boot, Johnson was used as a decoy in two games during 2014, only receiving three total targets in those two games. If you take out those games, his averages jump to a ridiculous 11.2 targets, six receptions, 102 yards, and .8 touchdowns per game – that is equivalent of 20.75 points per week in standard PPR league. Excluding the two decoy games, in 25 games over the past two seasons, Johnson has scored 20 or more points on 13 occasions (52%) and 30 or more on seven occasions (28%). Think about that for a second. If you started Johnson, there was a greater than 25% chance that he would erupt for 30 or more points.

In 22 games, Cobb scored 20 or more on nine occasions (41%) and 30 or more on just one occasion. Obviously, you can see the week-to-week advantage Johnson provides. I will say I was impressed Cobb scored over 20 in 41% of his games though. Another thing I would like to throw out there is Cobb was in a contract year last year when he had his best statistical season. I’m not saying Cobb won’t continue his production, but he wouldn’t be the first contract year player to fall off a little bit after getting paid.


Johnson will turn 30 shortly after the 2015 season begins (September 29th) and Cobb will turn 25 in a few weeks (August 22nd). This is an obvious advantage for Cobb in this debate and one of the main reasons I’m writing this article. With that said, I’m not worried about Johnson’s age. As recent receivers such as Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Reggie Wayne have proven, players at the receiver position can still produce consistently well into their 30’s. Andre Johnson put up two of the best statistical seasons of his career during his age 31 and age 32 seasons and with better quarterback play he might have continued that last season. Calvin Johnson reminds me a lot of Andre and I see Calvin’s career taking a similar path (Calvin having better production, though).

The other thing I would like to point out is the fact Cobb only signed a four-year contract with the Packers. Why is this relevant? It’s a reminder Cobb is not guaranteed to play the rest of his career in Green Bay and is also not guaranteed to continue his production should he leave Aaron Rodgers. Remember when everyone freaked out because they thought Cobb was going to Oakland this off-season? So, while Cobb is five years younger, I only recommend evaluating him over that four year period. I actually don’t recommend evaluating anything outside of a three year window in dynasty. Johnson will only be turning 34 when Cobb’s contract expires and 33 if you are looking in a three year window.

Injury Risk

The main knock I have heard on Johnson lately in the dynasty community is “he is getting old and the injuries are starting to pile up.” To those people I say this, “Johnson has missed five games in the past two years and nine total games in his eight year career.” Cobb has been in the NFL four years and has missed 12 games. Admittedly, the hit Cobb took on his knee was brutal and there wasn’t much he could do about missing those ten games. I just think people need to pump the brakes on suddenly calling Johnson injury prone and conversely I think people need to keep Cobb’s history in mind when evaluating him.


cobbI don’t see either player’s situation changing drastically over the next three to four years. Both teams have a solid young core on offense. Obviously it’s a safe bet Cobb has Aaron Rodgers throwing to him for the next four years and while I could certainly understand the Lions moving on from Matthew Stafford, I think it’s a pretty safe bet he is still throwing balls to Johnson four years from now. While I think the presence of Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Ameer Adullah will help things open up for Johnson and provide him more quality targets, I think the days of him seeing 170 – 200 targets are gone. I’d expect him to be pretty steady in the 150 range. Another positive is that last year was Johnson’s first in Joe Lombardi’s offense, so he should only be more comfortable over the next couple years.

As far as Cobb goes, I don’t see Jordy Nelson going anywhere for at least the next two years and I also don’t see Cobb being Aaron Rodgers’ true number one target until Nelson is gone, which is somewhat of a negative for Cobb. This is straight from the “conspiracy theory” file, but based on Jordy Nelson’s age and the way his contract is structured (along with other Packers players), I think there is a solid chance the Packers cut him or trade him after the 2016 season. Unfortunately for the decision makers out there, we won’t know if I’m right until then. I can also see rising second year receiver Davante Adams stealing some targets from Cobb going forward, which could limit his upside consider he only saw 127 targets last year. There is also room for his role in the backfield to grow, potentially minimizing Adams’ impact. Cobb has been very productive on a per target basis though, evidenced by his 72% catch rate and his WR8 finish, despite only 127 targets.


Let me preface this by saying I love Cobb as a player and think he will be a solid dynasty receiver for years to come, but I’m taking Johnson here with no hesitation in almost any situation. The only situation I wouldn’t take Johnson in is a complete rebuild because I don’t think it’s wise to invest in a 30 year old receiver in that situation because value is not likely to increase much over the next two to three years.   Looking out any further than a three year window in dynasty may be very dangerous and during that three year period I fully expect Johnson to outproduce Cobb.

Even if Cobb can equal Johnson’s overall production (which I think is unlikely), Johnson represents the higher week to week upside to help you win games which is evidenced by his 28% rate of scoring 30 or more the past two seasons – that’s what fantasy is all about right, winning games? The thing that really hurts Cobb is that he is not a true “WR1” in the NFL. He is a talented receiver, but I also think he is situation dependent to a certain extent, whereas Johnson has proven to be an elite stud no matter who is throwing him the ball. You will likely get more years out of Cobb but will those years actually be better? Will you even have Cobb on your team four years from now?

This situation reminds me of the off-season heading into 2012 when Victor Cruz rose up draft boards following his magical 2011 season and eventually passed long-time stud receiver Andre Johnson. Cruz was the 24-year old and Johnson was the “old and injury prone” 31-year old. What happened next? Over the next two seasons, Johnson amassed 221 receptions, 3,005 yards and nine touchdowns, while Cruz mustered only 159 receptions, 2,090 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Much like the 2007 Porsche in my original question posed, I’ll take Calvin Johnson because he is still the better product. He isn’t close to reaching his peak mileage, and he will get me to the finish line quicker!

So, who would you take and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Follow me on twitter: @bryan_j_murphy.


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