Randall Cobb Has Become a Great Fantasy Football Value in 2016
Breaking news: Randall Cobb struggled last year.
Oh, you already knew that?
Yeah, me too.
After a long offseason of reflection, Cobb just wanted to make sure everyone knew, admitting to “not performing to the capacity” he’s capable of last season, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Let's dig into the numbers from his lackluster 2015 season, and most importantly, try to figure out if Cobb is in store for better things this year.
A Lost Year
When Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason, it sent shockwaves throughout the fantasy community. Not only was an elite wideout missing the entire season, but the ripple effects impacted every skill player on one of fantasy’s most targeted offenses.
The prevailing thought was that Cobb and -- look away -- Davante Adams would reap the benefits of an increased market share. Seeing more targets from the great Aaron Rodgers, both had to put up big numbers, the thinking went, especially Cobb, who was coming off a superb 2014 campaign.
That season, Cobb totaled 91 grabs for 1,287 and 12 scores, finishing as WR8 in points per reception (PPR) formats.
Well, 2015 ended up being a nightmare for Green Bay’s receivers with the exception of James Jones, who parlayed the extra snaps into a WR30 finish in PPR leagues.
Cobb was drafted as the WR7 in PPR formats, per average draft position (ADP) data at Fantasy Football Calculator, but he didn’t come close to those lofty expectations, totaling 79 grabs for 892 yards and 6 scores to slot in as the PPR WR25.
Uh, What Happened?
Cobb was horribly inefficient.
The numbers are really, really ugly.
Despite seeing 129 targets from one of the game’s best quarterbacks, Cobb hauled in only 61% of those passes. Among the 48 wideouts to see at least 100 looks last season, he ranked 43rd with 0.52 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target. (You can read more about NEP, our in-house metric, in our glossary.) It was the worst mark of Cobb’s career.
You probably didn’t need me to tell you this, but that’s a far cry from what Cobb did in 2014, when his Reception NEP per target clip of 0.94 ranked second among receivers with at least 100 targets, trailing only Dez Bryant.
The Impact of Nelson
How much of Cobb’s disastrous 2015 was due to Nelson’s absence?
Well, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact amount. The narrative has been that Cobb was unable to get open as consistently when he was the secondary’s top focus and that he needs Nelson's ability to draw attention and make plays on the outside to thrive in his slot role.
There may be some truth to that one as Cobb was credited with just six drops -- and a solid 4.7% drop rate -- last year. Logic tells us that if a quarterback the caliber of Rodgers is throwing the ball Cobb's way 129 times and that Cobb isn't really struggling with drops, then maybe he really wasn't getting open.
As we know, though, narratives can be fairly meaningless, especially without data to back them up.
So let's use RotoViz's Splits App to see what Cobb has done with and without Nelson in the lineup.
Because Nelson missed all 16 games last year, we have a decent sample size with which to work. As we can see, over his career, Cobb gets more targets sans Nelson, but it’s actually led to a slight decrease in not only efficiency but overall PPR production.
Often times in fantasy, volume trumps efficiency, but with Cobb, he’s been unable to take advantage of the increased targets when Nelson is out of the lineup.
The numbers get even crazier if we just look at the last two years.
Simply put: Cobb just hasn't been as good without his partner in crime.
Cobb in 2016
It’s dangerous to assume all will be golden now that Nelson is back in the fold, at least depending on what you’re expecting from Cobb. A repeat of his career year in 2014 may not be realistic as that campaign set him up for some future touchdown regression.
Cobb appears to be in line for a productive season, though. Our projections have him as the 10th-ranked receiver for 12-team, PPR leagues, forecasting him to rack up 93 catches for 1,190 yards and 7.39 scores. He loses a little luster in standard formats, with our projections making him WR13.
Being drafted in the late third round as WR20 in PPR leagues, per Fantasy Football Calculator, Cobb makes for a nice value pick after the top tier of wideouts are off the board. While he will likely lose some volume with Nelson healthy, Cobb has shown that he puts up better numbers -- and is more efficient -- with Nelson in the mix.