Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2013 season. Check back each day to see the latest player on the list.
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Note: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players or a series about past success, but rather which of them means the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 4 — RANDALL COBB, WIDE RECEIVER
AGE / EXPERIENCE
22 (turns 23 before regular season begins) / Third NFL season
WHY HE’S NO. 4
In some cases, the most important players for a team’s success are also among the best players on that team. Randall Cobb fits that bill for the Green Bay Packers, as he has just about everything working in his favor.
Cobb is still so young. For a comparison, Cobb is 10 months younger than rookie running back Johnathan Franklin. Yes, 10 months younger than Franklin. That’s a clear indication that Cobb has not even approached his best yet.
Cobb has the full trust of coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That’s a very important factor in order for him to be at his best and put up statistics that rival the rest of the NFL’s top receivers. Rodgers often speaks glowingly about Cobb’s approach to the game and how prepared he is for every scenario. It helps that Cobb spent some time as a quarterback in college, using that knowledge to help him pick defenses apart with Rodgers.
McCarthy recognizes Cobb’s versatility and was experimenting with different ways to get him the ball last season. The Packers even had basic running plays for Cobb out of the backfield, with McCarthy doing whatever he could to keep defenses guessing. It’s safe to assume that Cobb’s role will only continue to expand.
Cobb will also benefit from the likely outcome of him no longer being asked to return punts and kicks. Though that’s not a guarantee at this point, it seems highly unlikely he’d be back on special teams after McCarthy has publicly commented on numerous occasions that he wants someone besides Cobb in that spot.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013
Considering Cobb had 80 catches, 954 yards and eight touchdowns last season, that is already very productive. But, with the departure of Greg Jennings, Cobb will be expected to produce at an even higher level than that. If the Packers didn’t think Cobb was capable of meeting increased expectations, Jennings wouldn’t have been viewed as expendable.
One of the key reasons for Cobb likely being taken off special teams is to keep him healthy. Undersized at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Cobb has already proven to be a bit susceptible to injuries. There hasn’t been any one injury that’s taken him out for more than one game, but there have been several times in which Cobb was shaken up on a play and had to be looked at on the sideline for a couple drives. That’s also why McCarthy is cautious with giving him too many handoffs, because Cobb took a big hit on one running play last season and hobbled off the field.
Cobb wouldn’t be No. 4 in this series of the most important players to the Packers success in 2013 if the expectations on him weren’t huge. Green Bay needs Cobb to continue improving, but there’s little reason to believe that won’t happen. Cobb led the team in targets in 2012 and that’s likely to repeat itself.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Cobb isn’t necessarily a No. 1 receiver in the same way that Calvin Johnson is in Detroit or Larry Fitzgerald is in Arizona. Johnson and Fitzgerald are arguably the two best receivers in the NFL and both have the type of ideal height (around 6-foot-4) that teams typically look for. But if there wasn’t a growing trend for receivers like Cobb, Tavon Austin (at 5-foot-9) wouldn’t have been the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Cobb has help from two other very good receivers in Green Bay. Entering the 2012 season, Jordy Nelson was coming off a year in which he had 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdown receptions. Injuries prevented Nelson from having that same level of success last year, but Nelson (at 6-foot-3) makes a great duo with Cobb.
James Jones led the NFL in touchdown receptions last season. As unlikely as it is, the player who finished 44th in the league in receiving yards had more touchdown catches than anyone. Jones is in a contract year and can’t be expected to contribute 14 touchdowns again, but he will definitely be another solid option for Rodgers.
The Packers also benefit in the receiving game from having a pass-catching tight end in Jermichael Finley. However, even with Finley and the three top receivers, Green Bay doesn’t have quite as much depth as it’s had in previous years. Jarrett Boykin, Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey will battle for the No. 4 spot on the depth chart.