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The Dissenting Costanzan #2: Is Randall Cobb as Bad as We Think He Is?

randallcobb

Seinfeld, The Pilot, “The Seinfeld Chronicles.”

George: You know, I can’t believe you’re bringing in an extra bed for a woman that wants to sleep with you. Why don’t you bring in an extra guy, too?

Jerry: Look, it’s a very awkward situation, I don’t want to be presumptuous. . .

George: You can’t be serious. . . . What do you need?—a flag? [Waves his arms in coordinated movements with his handkerchief.] This is the signal, Jerry, this is the signal!

The Dissenting Costanzan is a new semi-regular series in which I, as RotoViz’s unofficial ombudsman, will examine or call into question some of the arguments, assumptions, evidence, logic, methodologies, and pop culture references made recently on our site. In general, we at RotoViz desire for our posts to be as Costanza-proof as possible—for them to be able to withstand the (dare I say) bald pessimistic, caustic, and probingly meta-concerned deconstructionist post-postmodern inspection of the most Costanza-like reader imaginable. Why “The Dissenting Costanzan”?—why not???

Is Randall Cobb Actually Slow and Not That Good?

This question is literally as old as RotoViz. Among the site’s first posts are twinned pieces arguing on the one hand that Cobb is overrated in part because of his slow speed, small size, and subpar collegiate Dominator Rating and on the other hand that Cobb likely has the threshold amount of athleticism to be a top-10 receiver especially with Rodgers throwing him the ball a lot.

On the RV Message Boards people are discussing Cobb’s dynasty value, with his physical profile featuring prominently in some conversations, and recently several RotoViz writers have examined Cobb (including me; I love Ted Thompson). Justin Winn thinks that Cobb is a must sell in part because he’s small and likely priced near his ceiling. Shawn Siegele—in discussing De’Anthony Thomas—stated that Cobb is a short, small, and slow oft-injured possession receiver, an opinion that Davis Mattek has seconded in his assertion that Cobb is an unspectacular athlete for an NFL receiver. Nevertheless, as a site we’ve collectively decided (within a larger context) that he’s fairly decent, at least good enough to be ranked #14 in our Composite Dynasty WR Rankings and #12 in our Composite Redraft WR Rankings. And yet, despite being a top-24 receiver in 2012 and displaying top-24 potential in 2013 (when healthy), Cobb isn’t mentioned at all in the Historical WR Rankings, which Jacob Rickrode excellently compiled—not even mentioned as a one-year wonder, as a guy to avoid, or as a guy with potential to join the future Elite 24—as if we don’t know what to make of him and as if his NFL production up to this point tells us nothing.

I grant that—as is the case with Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, and probably even Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis—Cobb’s NFL success and market value have been inflated (in comparison to his talent) because he plays with Aaron Rodgers. I also grant that, for an NFL receiver, Cobb is short and small—and perhaps some injury concern now exists—but I think we should examine 1) the implication that he wasn’t productive in college, 2) the possibility that his NFL production is now more pertinent to an evaluation of him than is his college production, 3) the contention that he’s unathletic, 4) the assumption that his athleticism is important to an analysis of his ability as a receiver, 5) the possibility that his production is inextricably linked to Aaron Rodgers’ skill as a QB, and 6) the assumption that his value and production will plummet if he leaves Green Bay.

Question #1: Was Cobb Productive in College?

In a real way, Cobb was more productive in college than he gets credit for on this site. Here’s Cobb’s heat map from RotoViz’s College Career Graph App:

cobbheatmap

No, there’s not much green in Cobb’s heat map—but some of the numbers above are wrong. Here’s what Cobb really did at Kentucky in 2010:

Year

Class

Age

Rec

ReYd

Avg

ReTD

Gm

YdMS

TDMS

TotMS

2010

JR

20

84

1017

12.1

7

13

29.54

30.44

29.99

Notice that his market share numbers here are higher. Why the discrepancy? In 2010, Cobb as an occasional wildcat QB threw 5 passes for 58 yards and 3 TDs, and these numbers have been included in the total passing yards that are a part of Cobb’s market share calculation. While the 58 yards aren’t enough to affect his YdMS significantly, the 3 TDs really do affect his TDMS—and in the heat map these 3 TDs (which he couldn’t possibly catch) have been counted against him as a receiver.

Ironically, we’ve materially been counting Cobb’s ability to contribute in multiple ways against him as a receiver, and as a result we haven’t given him credit for the market share he deserves. Additionally—and I’ve said this before (a couple of times)—market share might not be a highly effective tool for gauging the productivity of the type of versatile all-purpose collegiate player that Cobb was.

Percy Harvin, Wes Welker, Santana Moss, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Tavon Austin, and Cordarrelle Patterson all were college players who contributed to their teams in multiple ways—catching, running, kick and punt returning—and none of them had outstanding market share production. Cobb is the same type of player. If you look at his receiving numbers above they’re nothing special. But look at these raw numbers:

Year

Class

Age

Touch

ScrYd

Avg

ScrTD

Pass TD

Ret TD

Tot TD

Gm

2010

JR

20

139

1441

10.4

12

3

1

16

13

When you look at all of his touches from scrimmage and his contributions in the return game—and why wouldn’t you look at that stuff?—Cobb looks like a much better prospect. Even not counting his passing TDs, he averaged a TD per game (when you add his 5 rushing TDs and 1 return score to his 7 receiving TDs)—and he also averaged over 100 scrimmage yards per game—and he did this as a 20-year-old true junior in the SEC. When we look at Cobb and say, on the basis of his college production, that he wasn’t a good prospect entering the NFL, we might be discounting his ability.

Question #2: How Pertinent is Cobb’s College Production Anyway?

Given what I just said, I almost hate to say this, but even as productive as Cobb was in college, what he did in the SEC in 2010 might not even matter anymore. When we make positive arguments about A.J. Green and Julio Jones, we don’t talk about their 2010 SEC production. Instead, we talk about what they’ve done in the NFL over the last three years. Likewise, if we make positive (or negative) arguments about A.J. Jenkins and Stephen Hill, we might mention their college production—but we go into the arguments truly knowing that at this point what matters more is their (lack of) NFL production during the last two years.

When we make negative arguments about Cobb, why should we talk about his (underrated) college production, when clearly what he’s done in the last 3 years as a pro is more pertinent to any conversation about his current market value and potential future production? And, no, Cobb hasn’t been as good as Green and Jones over the last three years—which in 2010 one probabilistically would’ve anticipated based even just on their differences in size and draft position—but Cobb has been a borderline top-10 receiver for the last two years when healthy. Surely that professional record of success means something when thinking about his value—and it certainly means more than what he did in college.

Question #3: Is Cobb Actually Unathletic?

Once WRs have been in the NFL for a while, we really don’t talk about their 40 times anymore. For instance, what do we talk about when discussing Green and Jones? Size? Yes. Speed? Generally, yes. But specific 40 times? Not really; not anymore. Instead, we more or less gauge their athletic ability by watching the games and seeing for ourselves what they can do on the field against live competition.

As Waldman-esque as this might sound, we have three years of available tape that shows Cobb’s athleticism matched up against the athleticism of his professional peers. In the end, the ability that he’s displayed in the NFL might have more significance now than what he did as a prospect—on one daythree years ago—at the Combine.

Nevertheless, let’s look at Cobb’s 2011 combine numbers (he didn’t participate in any timed drills at his pro day):

Ht

Wt

40 Time

Speed Score

60 Shuttle

20 Shuttle

3 Cone

Agility Score

V Jump

Br Jump

Explosion Score

BP Rep

70

191

4.46

96.54

11.56

4.34

7.08

11.42

33.5

115

148.5

16

Well, sure enough, for a guy his size, Cobb has bad Agility and Explosion Scores. And he doesn’t seem strong. And his Speed Score is below average. So based on these numbers he’s unathletic.

But here’s the thing—as far as I know Agility and Explosion Scores haven’t been incorporated into any of the WR projection models that any of the RotoViz contributors use, so their application in a consideration of Cobb’s relevant athleticism is questionable. Clearly, the more agile and explosive a player, the better, but—in thinking about his ability to perform on the field—we can’t really knock Cobb for his lack of timed agility and explosion when we haven’t shown that those measurements are truly important to WR success.

And that leaves us with only Cobb’s 40 time, and judging by the Speed Score, I should tell you that Cobb is below average—but I don’t really like the Speed Score metric. Its basic idea that bigger guys can acceptably run slower and smaller guys need to run faster resonates with my findings, but—for me—the use of Speed Score is limited because the metric is rooted in mathematics and not the realities of football. For instance, I’ve found that (in certain models with the right combination of other factors) if a WR hits certain marks in either weight or 40 time then the other factor is almost irrelevant. In other words, under the right circumstances, a big WR can still have success even if he’s slow, and a fast WR can have success even if he’s small.

Given my concern with the Speed Score metric, a few years ago I developed a graduated speed scale that, when used with other data, has served me well. How does Cobb’s 4.46 at 191 lbs. do in my speed scale? Generally, I’d like a 190-lb. receiver to have a 40 time no slower than 4.45 seconds. 192 lbs? 4.46 seconds. 191 lbs? I round up to 4.46.

Boom goes the dynamite! With this speed scale, Cobb has just enough verified athleticism for a receiver—and his size/speed profile, when placed next to his raw collegiate production and draft position, would have made him a player to target in rookie drafts on account of his high probability of NFL success, at least according to my primary WR model, which is streamlined (read: barebones) and thus doesn’t directly take into account the situations of the particular teams that draft players. So, for me—before I even thought about the advantages he could have catching passes from Aaron Rodgers—Cobb was an attractive prospect, having the requisite athleticism to go along with his collegiate production and status as a second-round pick. He’s not highly athletic, but, as The Douche said last year, Cobb probably has the threshold amount of athleticism needed to be a good receiver.

Of course, it’s possible that according to other people’s models Cobb doesn’t have the requisite athleticism to be a good NFL player—and it’s also possible that, if these models exist, they are vastly better than mine—and, in that case, the model creators would be probabilistically right in arguing that Cobb is athletically deficient . . . but 1) my speed scale says he’s athletic enough, 2) his NFL production says he’s probably athletic enough, and 3) I like my model’s odds.1

Question #4: At This Point, Does Cobb’s Athleticism Even Matter?

I’m sure that Cobb’s athleticism matters in that it affects his ability to function as an NFL receiver—but, to us, given that Cobb is young and possesses (and will likely possess for a while) the same athleticism he had when entering the league, does his athleticism even matter anymore in an evaluation of his ability as a receiver, his market value, and his probability of future success and the degree of that success? With all he’s done in the NFL, should we focus on the particulars of his athleticism?—or is it enough for us to know that, with his seemingly sufficient athleticism, he’s been effective in the NFL . . . when healthy?

It’s very possible that, with his size—and (for me) size is a component of “athletic profile”—Cobb may have difficulty staying healthy, but aside from health concerns questions of athleticism might be secondary at this point to his production, which is always the bottom line, and Cobb’s production, even if quietly, speaks for itself.

Question #5: Did Aaron Rodgers Make Randall Cobb?

And we get to one of the ultimate questions: What does Cobb’s production say? Does it say more about him as a receiver?—or more about Rodgers’s ability to make any WR useful? To me, Cobb’s production says this: “Think twice before trading.” Typically, young producers should be hoarded and held, not traded.2

Again—I grant that some of Cobb’s production is linked to Green Bay’s offensive system, the QB throwing him the ball, and his sheer usage—and so questions about whether Cobb will return to Green Bay after 2015 are valid—but isn’t it possible that the bulk of Cobb’s success comes merely from the his overall excellence as a player? Couldn’t he have good production simply because he is good?3 Put another way—does Ted Thompson really draft second-round WRs who are inherently bad?

Question #6: What Happens if Cobb Leaves Green Bay?

Let’s say that you accept the possibility that Cobb is good—regardless of his athleticism, the offensive system in which he plays, the guy throwing him the ball, and the number of targets he gets. The real question is this: What happens if Cobb leaves Green Bay in 2015?

Let’s explore the five primary possibilities that I see for how this plays out:

Decision

Occurrence

Outcome

Cobb stays in GB

Cobb stays healthy

Borderline WR1 production all the time

Cobb stays in GB

Cobb gets injured

Borderline WR1 production when healthy

Cobb leaves GB

Cobb becomes a Stevie Johnson All-Star

Broderline WR1 production

Cobb leaves GB

Cobb has a QB who can’t get him the ball

WR2 to Flex production

Cobb leaves GB

Cobb gets injured and has a QB who can’t get him the ball

Borderline WR2 to Flex production when healthy

Let’s not forget that Cobb could possibly stay in GB. If you hold Cobb into the 2015 offseason, you allow yourself the chance to roster a guy who will likely maintain his borderline WR1 production if he stays in Green Bay, where we basically know what Cobb can do. It’s what he’s done the last two years.

But what if Cobb leaves Green Bay? We’ve maybe been too quick to dismiss the possibility that Cobb leaving could be good for him. At least on another team he wouldn’t be competing for targets with Jordy Nelson. What if Cobb goes to a team that makes him into a Stevie Johnson All-Star, as the Vikings did with Percy Harvin in 2011 and 2012 or the Steelers did with Antonio Brown in 2013? Or what if, like Wes Welker, he goes to a team that also has an established QB committed to getting him the ball a lot? Remember, when healthy, Welker was a borderline WR1 last year.

Yes, if Cobb leaves he could also turn into Mike Wallace in Miami or Greg Jennings in Minnesota—but even Mike Wallace was a top-30 WR last year with an inconsistent Ryan Tannehill, and Greg Jennings was still flexible when he had a semi-competent QB throwing to him—and both guys now seem poised for potential rebounds in productivity—and those guys are also significantly older than Cobb. And, fine, it’s possible that Cobb gets injured and turns into the 2013 version of Percy in Seattle—but Harvin in Seattle could still work out.

So perhaps we’ve been 1) assigning too much probabilistic weight to the possibility that Cobb leaves Green Bay and 2) predicting too much of a productivity collapse if Cobb does leave.

Several RotoViz writers have suggested or implied that, if you are rostering Cobb right now, you should trade him. Of course, the way you currently value Cobb will be informed by how much you value (or discount) future production—but you might want to consider simply holding him, since 1) you have a strong idea of what he’ll do in 2014 and 2) it’s very possible that his post-2014 production has been discounted too much, as he could stay in Green Bay—or even leave Green Bay and still be productive.

Cobb’s not a prototypical WR1—and maybe he wasn’t as productive in college or as athletic as a prospect as we’d like our WR1s to be—and Cobb probably isn’t even the best WR on his team—but he’s still a pretty good receiver to have on your team, and that might not be the type of player you want to trade away just because his prospects the season after next could be devalued.

As Tom Hagen says to Michael Corleone in Godfather: Part II, “Just consider this, Mike—that’s all, just consider it.” Of course Michael still kills everyone anyway, so . . . as George would say, “This is the signal.”

 

  1. I’ll say that my primary WR model isn’t (quite) as omniscient as God, but in 2011 it did hit on 100% of its first- and second-round picks; helped me avoid first- and second-round busts Jonathan Baldwin, Titus Young, and Greg Little; accurately predicted all of the first- and second-round hits and misses; and hit on 33% of its third-, fourth-, and fifth-round selections—which for those rounds is very high—while enabling me to avoid almost all of the non-contributors in those rounds—all without missing a single guy to become a top-30 receiver to this point. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should also say that 2011 was a very good year for the model.  (back)
  2. But this is coming from a guy who likes to buy and hold in the investment world, so my having a similar perspective in fantasy isn’t surprising.  (back)
  3. Ockham’s razor, know what I’m saying?  (back)

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