The ascension of second-year receiver Randall Cobb to the doorstep of NFL stardom has come on at a blistering pace. Picked at the end of the second round in 2011, Cobb has already established himself as one of the game's best slot receiver and returner combinations.
Cobb's quarterback, NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, wasn't afraid to pile on the highest praise to date of his 22-year-old receiver Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking with ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde during his weekly radio segment, Rodgers offered up this glowing assessment of Cobb:
"Randall is probably going to go down as one of the better picks in Ted Thompson's career, if not the best," Rodgers told Wilde. "To get him where he got him, the kind of person that he is, the approach that he has, his knowledge of the game, what he adds to our team, his locker room presence—he is a personnel and a coach's dream, and he's alot of fun to play with. He really understantds the offense well, he makes second-reaction plays that are very intelligent, he's a lot of fun to play with."
Rodgers is obviously traveling down Hyperbole Ave. with his "best" pick statement, as Thompson picking Rodgers with his first-ever pick in 2005 will likely always be his best ever draft selection. But there's no doubting what kind of immense talent Rodgers believes Cobb has.
Through six games this season, it's easy to see why. According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb has emerged—at least statistically—as one of the NFL's elite slot receivers.
Cobb has run 139 routes from the slot position in 2012, catching 22 of 26 targets for 282 yards and one touchdown. Cobb's 22 catches from the slot are fifth among NFL receivers, while his catch rate of 84.6 is the best in the business.
Yards after catch, another important part of playing the slot, has been a predictable positive for Cobb. Of the 346 yards Cobb has accumulated in 2012, 207 of it has come after the catch—good for fifth-most in the NFL. Cobb's foot quickness and unwillingness to go to the ground—especially for a player his stature—makes him Percy Harvin-like in his ability to chew up yards after securing the catch.
In terms of yards per route run, another telling statistic about a receiver's overall production, Cobb ranks eighth at 2.49. Among those names ahead of him on the list are Wes Welker, Harvin and Danny Amendola, three of the NFL's best slot receivers.
Rodgers also has a sparkling 117.4 passer rating when throwing Cobb's way this season, which is the sixth-highest rated quarterback-receiver combination in 2012.
If there's one stat where Cobb has been a letdown, it's been drops. He already has four this season. But Cobb has otherwise been a revelation for the Packers' evolving offense. Sunday night in Houston, Cobb caught seven passes for a career-high 102 yards, while also adding 106 yards in returns.
Rodgers compared Cobb to a young Greg Jennings, who entered the NFL just one year after the Packers took Rodgers. Much like Cobb, Jennings was a second-round pick back in 2006.
"Him and Greg [Jennings] were both very similar when they came in," Rodgers said. "I still remember the first day Greg was here, in 2006, he ran a comeback outside, and it was the most mature route I had seen from a first-year player.
Looking back, and you go 'Man, that guy was really detailed in his routes.' But the professionalism that Greg took to the team, as a young player, was so refreshing and surprising, because he just carried himself in a way that was very respectful and classy. But also that he belonged, he had enough confidence in himself.
I hadn't seen that with any player until Randall. When Randall came in last year, looking very respectful and classy. But with that kind of edge that 'I belong here, this isn't too big for me.' You don't see that class and respect and confidence in a young player."
Cobb's production inside has helped ease the continued absence of Jennings, who has missed three games this season and the better part of a fourth because of a lingering groin injury. As of Week 6, Cobb is on pace to catch 93 passes for 923 yards this season.
While Jennings is likely to return in the coming weeks, Cobb's role on the offense is starting to solidify itself. His snap count fluctuated greatly over the first four games, but over the last two, Cobb has played a total of 88, or close to 70 percent of the offense's snaps.
Considering the production over those featured number of snaps, Cobb's role shouldn't see much of a decrease once Jennings comes back into the lineup. At the very least, it shouldn't tank like it did upon Jennings' return in Week 3 in Seattle, when Cobb played just nine snaps.
Given Rodgers' spot-on scouting report of Cobb, he likely doesn't think that role should be reduced either.
"Very intelligent and deliberate about his preparation, he understands soft spots in zones, he's very detailed in his route running," Rodgers said.
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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