Every season, we do our best to predict who the big sleepers and breakout candidates are going to be. Every season, we get a few of them wrong -- very wrong. But just because a certain player goes bust one year doesn't mean they'll be a bust forever. Welcome to "Bust-a-Move", where we're breaking down some of 2015's biggest fantasy football disappointments to determine if you can expect some stat sheet salvation in 2016.
About this same time last year, I was sitting in an Umami Burger on the Las Vegas Strip enjoying a burger and a tasty adult beverage. I looked up to one of the many TV screens showing a preseason game between the Packers and Steelers. But something was wrong. Jordy Nelson had just gone down with the dreaded non-contact injury.
Suddenly my beverage wasn't quite as tasty. Finding out that one of the top receivers in the game was suddenly lost for the season will do that to a man.
But I (and many others) rested a little easier in the knowledge that Randall Cobb could easily slide into the No. 1 role and provide a similar level of production. Eventually, we were all reminded that true knowledge is knowing that we know nothing. Cobb didn't give us Jordy-like production, so many of us had the sadz.
I went back to watch some of Cobb's 2015 games to see why we all had the sadz and whether that emotion would be our permanent state of being while watching Cobb play. But I won't give you any spoilers here in the intro.
What went wrong
Looking back on Cobb's numbers from 2015, he wasn't exactly bad. It's just that he wasn't great. His 829 receiving yards and six touchdowns weren't terribly off from his breakout season in 2012. The problem is that those numbers were nowhere near the monstrous totals he posted in 2014. We looked back on Cobb destroying his career highs with 91/1,287/12 and assumed that similar numbers were in the offing now that he'd become the de facto No. 1 option in the passing game. That's a lofty standard to live up to.
That's not to say that the only problem for Cobb last season was the pressure of elevated expectations. The Packers offense as a whole took a big hit when Nelson went down and it became readily apparent that the other players expected to step up in the offense weren't capable of doing so. James Jones was consistently inconsistent and old. Although the latter might have contributed to the former. (But that hoodie was great, amirite?) Davante Adams was ungood and Jeff Janis wasn't exactly Magellan with his routes. All of that forced Cobb into a larger role than he was intended to play and was capable of handling -- especially with all of the extra attention that came his way without Nelson making plays on the outside.
Since we're talking about playing on the outside, Cobb did have the disadvantage of trying to operate as a de facto WR1 while working almost exclusively from the slot. While there are plenty of outstanding slot receivers in the league (I would also include Cobb in that list), there aren't many that can be counted among the ranks elite fantasy wideouts. It's a phenomenon that Matt Harmon explained eloquently earlier this year.
Oh ... and there was also the issue of Cobb playing through a shoulder injury for a notable part of the season. I'm no doctor, but having two working arms is always a benefit for a wide receiver at any level of football.
What must improve
I don't think it's an oversimplification to say that getting everyone back and healthy in the Packers lineup is going to be key to Cobb becoming a fantasy darling once again. We've seen how devastatingly efficient that group can be with everyone in their proper roles. Just getting the band back together could be enough to restore Cobb to legit WR2 status with WR1 upside.
The other part of Cobb's potential success will just be to maximize his on-field matchups each week. Lining up in the slot allowed Cobb to face off against plenty of linebackers and safeties, few of whom could stay with the elusive wideout on a consistent basis. By the way, if you want to be amazed, I recommend watching the Packers' Week 3 game last season and counting the number of times Cobb completely confounded Tyvon Branch and Jamell Fleming. It was enough to get NFL Media's Patrick Claybon to suggest that "No. 27 (Branch) should erase the server" with all of that week's video.
What we expect
Any reports of Randall Cobb's fantasy demise were greatly exaggerated. Unless there is a complete meltdown of the Packers passing game in 2016 -- which seems unlikely -- let's consider last year to be nothing more than a speed bump. On paper, this group looks like it will once again be a juggernaut and Cobb should eat heartily on a week-to-week basis as Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 option. By the way, I haven't even mentioned Jared Cook. If he can live up to even half of the hype and excitement he's generating, it's one more distraction to keep defenses from locking down too hard on Cobb.
Verdict: If Randall Cobb isn't a top 15 receiver this year then something has gone horribly wrong. I'm more than comfortable with his current fifth-round ADP and probably wouldn't hesitate to reach for him a round earlier. All is well in Green Bay again. Let us rejoice.