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Friday, May 27, 2011
Have at It: Total return for Cobb and Young

By Kevin Seifert

Randall Cobb/Titus Young
NFC North readers were almost split on which wide receiver would have a better rookie season, Green Bay's Randall Cobb or Detroit's Titus Young.
I reached deep into my bag of tricks this week, hitting you with a Have at It on the first day of ESPN.com's conversation template conversion. (Try saying that five times fast.) Reflecting first-day frustrations, Sundevilaw suggested "Divide, Conquer and Confuse" as the most appropriate name for the software. Fortunately, it appears you all have made a slick adjustment since then.

The question at hand: Which NFC North receiver -- Titus Young of the Detroit Lions or Randall Cobb of the Green Bay Packers -- is headed toward the most productive rookie season? The post also included one of our newfangled SportsNation polls, which for the most part ran 50-50. I guess that's the sign of a good debate.

Each player provides unique attributes, but the biggest discrepancy between the two situations might be the potential for playing time. The Lions have suggested Young is in line for the No. 3 receiver position, a role that would make him a quasi-starter. Cobb, on the other hand, figures as no better than the Packers' No. 4 receiver provided all incumbents are healthy.

"If we are looking at just numbers I see Titus Young putting up better numbers," wrote ispammc. "... The Packers still seem too deep for Cobb to get the number of receptions that Young has a chance for. Don't forget about Jermichael [Finley]!"

TheChainsawNinja, whom I wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley, agreed that Young has a better immediate opportunity on offense: "As a Packer fan I think Titus Young will have better rookie numbers ... just because Cobb will fall down through the Green Bay depth chart. However, Cobb will end up with the better career numbers because he won't be pressured into a role as a starting WR he isn't ready for. Randall Cobb will be given time to develop behind a very talented receiving corps and will start showing his value once Donald Driver is through with the NFL."

Cobb, on the other hand, appears to have a much better opportunity to jump in as a kickoff and punt returner than Young, at least as long as Lions ace returner Stefan Logan remains healthy. Getting Cobb into the special-teams mix is enough for thethiefbarabus, who wrote: "Don't care how many balls Cobb gets, just getting Tramon [Williams] out of PR duties is WELL worth the pick...Seriously, every time I saw him back there fielding a kick I was just holding my breath."

Even so, joeblow501 cautions against assuming anything about Cobb's opportunity as a receiver. Joeblow501 noted that James Jones (47 receptions), Greg Jennings (45) and Jordy Nelson (33) were all productive in the Packers' current offense as rookies and wrote: "There is no reason to think Cobb will be any different."

Indeed, last season the Packers had four wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, although part of that production was the result of Finley's season-ending knee injury. In 2009, their No. 4 receiver had 22 receptions and in 2008, he had 20.

In the end, both dgnfcnorthaz and TDbuddah argued, Young and Cobb will excel in different areas but the sum of their contributions will be about equal.

Wrote dgnfcnorthaz: "If Young gets 40 catches, that doubles the amount the Lions got from all their WRs after Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. That would be a positive all by itself -- Bryant Johnson caught only 1/3 of the passes thrown his way. Young is also a burner and could create havoc in the open field with his speed and agility. ... Cobb will make the Packers happy if he can get more than 8 yds per PR, and if he can actually hang on to the ball."

Here's how Tdbuddah broke it down:
I guess it depends how you define production. IMO:

Total TDs - Cobb 4 or 5, Young 4 or 5

Total Rec - Cobb 20 or so, Young 55 or so

Return yards - Cobb a lot, Young Not so much

Receiving yards - Cobb 400 or so, Young 600 or so

... My guess is "production-wise" (however you define that) they probably balance out. As for importance to the team (which the Packers excelled in last season) -- getting Jordy off kickoffs and Tramon off punts, I'd have to say Cobb is more important."
My take? While I don't think you can understate Cobb's immediate impact on special teams, I think we should also remember what we discussed earlier this month. If he proves to have the advertised skill set, Young will add a critical explosive element to a Lions offense that was actually pretty horizontal last year.

In hashing through this issue, we can only assume that lineups remain static on both sides. We all know that is rarely the case, but all we can do is offer the usual injury caveats.

In that context, it wouldn't be surprising at all if Young finishes with significantly better receiving numbers than Cobb, a fact that will be important to fantasy players if no one else. There's no doubt Cobb could offer the Packers a valuable service by getting Williams out of the punt-return job, and it'll be an upset if coach Mike McCarthy doesn't carve out some kind of role for him in the offense.

It's easy to envision Young with a 50-catch season. Remember, that's only 3.2 receptions per game over 16 games. Is Cobb going to get 50 balls on an offense with Jennings, Driver, Nelson, Finley and possibly Jones? Unlikely. His best chance to equal Young's contribution will be to routinely improve the Packers' field position via the return game.