In today's NFL where passing is prevalent, grabbing a wide receiver who will put up top-10 numbers in your fantasy league has become fairly important. You'd like to get top-10 value later on in the draft, but let's face it, everyone loves high-volume wide receivers, and they typically start going in droves at the end of the second round of your fantasy draft.
Fitting that mold, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, both Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb are being selected around this point in fantasy drafts. Our projections love both of them, ranking them in the top 10 at the position.
But which one of these receivers should you actually prefer? Here's a look at what numberFire contributor Joth Bhullar and I think.
The Argument For Randall Cobb
By Matt Goodwin
What intrigues me about Jeffery as a player is that he turns 50-50 balls into 90-10 balls in his favor through body control and acrobatics. However, when it comes to fantasy wide receivers on my squad, I'm about three things: volume, weekly consistency, and the guy throwing my wide receiver the ball. With that in mind, I don't need to do a "discount double-check" to know that Cobb is the wide receiver I'd rather own.
It's no secret that Cobb is probably the best slot receiver in the NFL. He was on a torrid pace last season before his season essentially ended on a helmet-to-leg hit against Baltimore. In 4.5 games before the injury, Cobb had 29 receptions for 378 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns to go along with 72 yards rushing on two carries. For a full season that translates to 103 receptions for 1,344 yards receiving with 7 touchdowns, which clearly puts him at equal footing with Jeffery, who had 89 receptions for 1,421 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns.
It's very feasible that Cobb could lead the NFL in receptions in 2014 based on volume and his versatility to line up anywhere in the Packers formation, including the slot, the backfield, and out wide. Those sentiments were echoed by packers.com as well. Our AJ Weinberg dissected Cobb's 2012 breakout season in detail in this piece as well, noting that he's been a top-tier wideout.
Something that's easy to miss with Cobb is that, even with high target volume and efficiency in catching those targets in the past, he's still only 23 years old despite already playing three years in the NFL. That, along with opportunity, screams upside to me. This is especially true when you consider arguably the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers is throwing him the ball.
I know the Packers drafted a few wide receivers and tight ends, but there's no telling if they'll be heavily involved in Year 1. Additionally, Jarrett Boykin doesn't scare me as a WR3 on the team - he had two catches for eight yards on four targets in the only game where he overlapped with Cobb (Week 17 vs. Chicago) in the regular season last year. And his goose egg on one target in the playoffs versus San Francisco wasn't anything special, either.
Also, the current Packers depth chart has tight end Andrew Quarless atop it, and we all know that Quarless is known for his blocking, not his pass-catching skills. The losses of James Jones and Jermichael Finley also leave a red zone void, and Cobb could take advantage there. That's not even accounting for potential kickoff return yards, rushing yards, or the impact of the Packers attempting to speed up their offensive pace to 75 offensive snaps a game. I'll be conservative and just consider any of that "gravy" for my analysis of Cobb.
The volume that Cobb figures to see (10 targets a game in his first four weeks of 2013), the weekly consistency, and Rodgers being an elite quarterback who trusts him all make Cobb my wide receiver of choice at the back-end of Round 2. Not Alshon Jeffery.
The Argument Against Randall Cobb
By Joth Bhullar
One of my issues with drafting Cobb so high is that his maximum potential seems to be priced into his average draft position. If we assume Cobb stays healthy for 16 games, and gets 130 targets (Jordy Nelson had 127 last year), and then use his average Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target over the past three years of .913 to approximate his 16 week totals, Cobb would end up with a total Reception NEP of 118.69. For reference, this would’ve placed him ninth among receivers last year.
The word “equity” is often thrown around in fantasy, and Cobb is a player that offers very little. His average draft position as the 10th wide receiver off the board essentially assumes that he maximizes his potential. If I'm drafting a wide receiver in the late second or early third round, I would much rather have Jeffery, who's already posted a top-10 season. And if his efficiency improves, he could flirt with top-five status.
Many fantasy owners are banking on a high volume of targets to sustain Cobb’s value in 2014, but there's still reason to believe that the total may not be as high as expected. With the emergence of Boykin as a legitimate number three receiver, the drafting of Davante Adams, and Eddie Lacy becoming the first Packer running back since Ryan Grant in 2009 to top 1,000 rushing yards, the Packers will be a more balanced attack than people expect.
The perception is that, since Jones and Finley are gone, Cobb will absorb much of the remaining targets. But the Packers have seemingly replaced those two with Boykin and Adams. In addition to the surrounding weapons, an improved defense due to the additions of Julius Peppers and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix could also lower the overall pace of the Packers offense, and thus reduce Cobb’s opportunities.
In general, I’m not against drafting Cobb in fantasy, but if Jeffery is on the board, he offers far more upside than Cobb does.
The Argument For Alshon Jeffery
By Joth Bhullar
In just his second season in the league, Jeffery broke out in a big way by placing in the top 12 in receptions, yards, targets and yards per reception. Standing at 6’3 and 215 pounds, Jeffery fits the mold of the elite receivers in the NFL, like Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. If Jeffery continues to improve, he'll flirt with top-five receiver status.
Skeptics will indicate that Jeffery’s numbers went down when Jay Cutler came back from injury last year for Josh McCown. However, this impact is a bit overstated. Jeffery still placed top 12 in points among fantasy wide receivers through the first 10 weeks, and in Cutler’s last three weeks, his numbers were nearly identical to Brandon Marshall's (Marshall: 16/205 and Jeffery 14/228).
In fact, the argument could be made that Cutler’s presence may actually have a positive impact on Jeffery’s numbers. Cutler’s average depth of target last year was 9.9 (top 8 in the NFL), while McCown’s was a league average 8.6. This propensity for throwing deep will undoubtedly help Jeffery, who was graded as the best "go-route" runner in the entire NFL in 2013.
Another area where Jeffery will likely improve upon is his red-zone efficiency. Anyone who has watched Jeffery play, with his tremendous size and body control, would make the assumption that Alshon converts a large number of his red-zone targets. However, in what seems to be an aberration, Jeffery only converted 3 of 19 red-zone targets last year. If Jeffery is able to improve his efficiency inside the 20s, he'll flirt with double digit touchdowns, and will likely produce WR1 numbers once again.
There seems to be a perception that Jeffery’s numbers were a bit inconsistent, and will be hard to rely on. However, his top 12 reception (89) and target numbers (150) indicate that although Jeffery may have a few poor games, as all wide receivers do, he's a major part of the Bears' offense and will be an overall steady receiver. Over the last 10 weeks of the season, Jeffery was targeted at least seven times in each contest.
And while rookie Marquess Wilson was expected to take a bit of Jeffery’s targets, he just broke his clavicle in practice and could miss up to two months. Jeffery will once again be near the top of the league in targets, and will have no problem providing consistent fantasy value.
Overall, if Jeffery can continue to build chemistry with Cutler in training camp, he's in for another huge year. He's a big, physical receiver in the mold of the league’s elite and has the benefit of facing single coverage due to Brandon Marshall’s presence. Jeffery will once again post huge yardage and reception totals, and if he is able to convert on a higher percentage of his red-zone targets, he will leap into the top five fantasy receivers.
The Argument Against Alshon Jeffery
By Matt Goodwin
First, let me start by saying that Jeffery is a tremendous talent, and anyone who has two separate 200-yard games in the same season has my ultimate respect. However, I'd argue that you've seen his ceiling in 2013 when defenses weren't as worried about him and he broke out. So by virtue of you investing a late-second or third-round pick in someone who has some built in volatility to his stock price (more on that in a minute), you're essentially buying at the highest point.
My main arguments against Jeffery are two-fold. First, the sweat equity and trust built up between Cutler and Marshall while playing together on two separate teams, and second, the fact that Cutler is throwing Marshall the ball and not Rodgers, or even McCown, who Jeffery had arguably more success with - despite Joth's notion above - as our Brandon Gdula wrote about extensively in this article.
Basically, I'm taking the master of the obvious argument that Rodgers is way better than Cutler, and less injury prone too. The backup quarterback situation in Chicago isn't even mentionable for 2014, so let's just hope that we don't have to factor that into Jeffery's statistics. Let's table that though, and note that Jeffery had his best games of 2013 with McCown, especially from a touchdown perspective. Marshall played equally well with both quarterbacks, and Cutler clearly looks his way first.
As I mentioned before, especially as fantasy owners head to their fantasy playoffs, while I do like the "go-off" potential that Jeffery offers, I'd also want to make sure that Marshall's chemistry with Cutler doesn't cause my second- or third-round receiver (ostensibly the first one I'm drafting) to have a bad game when I need him the most. That's what I call consistency. How can you trust Jeffery when he has 249 yards and 15 targets one week, and has two games in 2013 with one reception apiece (albeit earlier in the 2013 season)?
Like Joth mentioned, I'm also not delighted by the fact that a 6'3, 215 pound wide receiver who excels at jump balls was so bad in the red zone last year, with 3 catches in 19 tries. That's a tough hurdle to overcome considering Cutler's history and trust with Marshall, as well as the offensive ability of running back Matt Forte and big red zone target Martellus Bennett. So that poor play in the red zone typecasts Jeffery into a deep-ball receiver, which while he's great at, but that becomes hard to predict success with. By virtue of that, he's basically an early third -round version of Michael Floyd at a much higher price.
I do like Jeffery overall, but if I'm picking a wide receiver in that vicinity, I'm going with Cobb all day or waiting and actually picking Floyd a few rounds later.