Randall Cobb is a name that every fantasy owner is familiar with. The last pick of the second round in the 2011 NFL Draft, Cobb had a relatively quiet rookie season before putting together a 1,086 total yard, 8 touchdown season in 2012. His combination of production and youth catapulted his fantasy stock to an average draft position of 30.73 in 2013 redraft leagues, per MyFantasyLeague.com.
Owners who rolled the dice on Cobb were handsomely rewarded through the first four weeks of the season, as he was averaging 13.08 points per game in a standard, non-PPR league. Then, in his fifth game of the year, he broke his fibula, an injury which virtually ended his season.
He was on pace to finish the season as a top 10 receiver, and he’s being drafted as such this season. It begs the question though: are we overvaluing Cobb? Remember, he’s a player who has never reached the 1,000-yard receiving plateau, and only has one season of starter-level snaps under his belt. Just how good is he?
Cobb in 2012
The first place to turn to when trying to gauge Cobb’s value as a receiver is by looking at his one full season as a (mostly) starting receiver.
By all accounts, Cobb’s 2012 season was good. His standard numbers were all very respectable. His eight receiving touchdowns was tied for 15th most in the league, his 80 receptions were good for 17th, and he finished just outside the top 20 in receiving yards with 954. All this amounted to a top-20 finish among fantasy wide receivers by the end of the season.
What makes his production even more impressive, beyond the fact that he was just 22 years old that season, is that he was competing for targets with Jordy Nelson and James Jones. While Nelson did miss four games, Cobb still had more competition for targets than most wideouts face.
All these numbers are well and good, but standard counting stats will only tell us so much about how strongly a player performed. To get a better idea of how good Cobb’s 2012 season was, we’ll utilize numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is our very own statistic that tells us how many expected points a player is adding to his team through his on-field performance (for more on NEP check out our glossary).
When you dig into Cobb’s NEP metrics, it’s easy to get excited about him. Below is a table showing Cobb’s performances in various NEP categories, followed by his league-wide ranks in each one.
|Reception NEP||Rank||Target NEP||Rank||Total NEP||Rank||Reception NEP per Target
Clearly, his rankings in each category are all strong, but they get even more impressive when you take a few things into account. First, let’s dive into his Reception NEP number. Of the top 19 receivers, Cobb had less targets than every one of them. This is significant, as more targets equates to more chances to accumulate Reception NEP. Further, among the top 30 receivers in Reception NEP, Cobb had fewer targets than all but three receivers. When you zoom out a bit and look at the top 50 receivers in Reception NEP for 2012, only one of them was younger than Cobb. That receiver was Josh Gordon, whose 43rd overall ranking wasn’t even particularly close to Cobb.
What makes these numbers even more enticing is the extreme efficiency through which Cobb achieved them. His Reception NEP per target of 0.87 was fifth-highest among the top 25 receivers in Reception NEP. So, even if you want to chalk up some of Cobb’s 2012 production to Nelson being injured for part of the season, his excellent efficiency should quiet any of the belief that his performance was due to the added volume of his absence.
Cobb’s ability to haul in the vast majority of passes thrown his way is nothing short of magnificent as well. Of players with 50-plus targets in 2012, only Brandon Stokley topped Cobb’s ridiculous 76.92% catch rate. Stokley had a mere 58 targets to Cobb’s 104, so the fact that Cobb was able to maintain such a high catch rate over a bigger workload is more impressive than what Stokley managed to do.
To showcase just how ridiculous Cobb’s catch rate was, of players with at least 100 targets, Eric Decker was the nearest receiver to Cobb...and he was a full 7.25% behind him. For reference, that difference was the same as the jump between second and 10th on that list. Part of his crazy good catch rate can be chalked up to the play of Aaron Rodgers, and much of his great Target NEP can be seen as a result of strong quarterback play, but last I checked, Rodgers is still the man leading Green Bay’s offense.
An Encore Season Cut Short
It’s safe to say Cobb’s performance as a 22-year-old was pretty gosh darn incredible. Unfortunately, as those of us who went Cobb crazy in 2013 drafts know, he wasn’t able to show what he could do in his junior season. He had a freak broken leg injury in the Packers’ Week 5 game against the Ravens, and he wasn’t able to return until Week 17.
Despite the fact that his season included just six games played, it’s still worthwhile to look at his metrics. In those six games, Cobb racked up 37.42 Reception NEP, putting him on pace for a 99.79 Reception NEP season. I don’t normally like to extrapolate numbers like this, but for the sake of argument, it’s worth seeing the pace Cobb was on. If he indeed managed to reach that Reception NEP figure, it would have been 16th in the league. Don’t forget that Cobb also has some value as a runner, and he was on pace for a Total NEP of 109.2. That amount would have represented the 13th-highest Total NEP score among receivers last season.
What was also nice to see from Cobb’s short 2013 season was his maintained efficiency. While he wasn’t able to match his ridiculous 2012 catch rate, his 65.96% rate is still an elite figure among highly targeted players. His Reception NEP per target was 0.80 in 2013, showing Cobb can maintain impressive efficiency despite being more highly targeted on a per-game basis, with more defensive attention being paid to him.
From Cobb’s limited 2013 action, we can see he was on track to have another special year. In his four fully healthy games, he was seeing an average of 10 targets. Combine his efficient production with that sort of volume over the course of a full season, and he’d be in for a huge, huge season.
Cashing in on Cobb
It’s important to remember that most of what I have been discussing details more of Cobb’s real-life value than his fantasy value. Still, there’s a pretty close relationship between numberFire’s metrics and fantasy value, so it’s easy to see why our projections love Cobb this year.
In a 12 team, non-PPR league, numberFire projects Cobb to be the 29th-most valuable player. Among receivers, he's eighth overall, ahead of Nelson.
Some owners may be hesitant to spend an early pick on a player with only one full season as a starter under his belt, but Cobb has shown he's a top-level talent, and I'm drafting him with extreme confidence in 2014. He’s in a position to see more volume than ever, and being the productive, efficient beast that he is, Cobb is primed for a big season.