Tag Archives: Ted Thompson draft

The Evolution of Randall Cobb

Known primarily for his return skills, Cobb has morphed into a Percy Harvin-lite.

In his fourth season, the Vikings’ Percy Harvin has developed into a special all-around talent that ended up with 100 touches over the last half of last season – 20+ more than the next closest receiver. Harvin’s combination of size and speed allows him to be used out wide, in the slot, and even out of the backfield – Harvin had 52 rushing attempts last season. This dynamic threat has resulted in him being a focal point alongside AP, which is saying something.

After two games this season, the Packers’ Randall Cobb has quickly morphed himself into a Percy Harvin-lite. Like Harvin, Cobb has a unique skill set that allows him to lineup all over the field and exploit mismatches with his speed, burst, and cutting ability.

With the last pick of the second round two drafts ago, TT nabbed another gem with Cobb. Cobb made a name for himself immediately, scoring twice in the first game of the NFL season when he had a receiving touchdown and return touchdown. Both were notable, but for different reasons. The receiving touchdown was infamous in that he scored after running the wrong route. The return touchdown was famous – it earned AP play of the year – for the acrobatic manner in which he stayed off the ground. Such a sterling start fizzled for most of the remainder of the year.

The different dimensions Cobb could have brought to the offense were not realized in his first year. Only the tip of the iceberg was shown in the first NYG game when Cobb took a reverse, pulled up, and heaved a tight spiral along the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete. But, the message was clear – Cobb added a different dimension to an already explosive offense.

Fast forward to 2012. Cobb’s unique skill set has been on full display through two games. When the rest of the receiving corps struggled to get any openings against the staunch (and clutching) 49ers defense, Cobb was the one player that presented a mismatch and exploited it. Lining up next to Rodgers often, Cobb was very effective catching the ball in the flat where his burst and cutting ability shined. In the second game, Cobb lined up more in the backfield and received a few carries. The pitch wide to get him into space was especially effective.

But, the reason he is Percy Harvin-lite, is he doesn’t have Harvin’s size. And this was clear when he took a carry up the middle, and took a shot to his shoulder. Cobb’s day was effectively over, as he didn’t touch the ball (on offense) again.

At 5’10” and 190 lbs., Cobb simply isn’t built to take the tough hits that come with running the ball between the tackles. Harvin does this, and does this well. He is simply unlimited in what he can do out of the backfield, whereas Cobb must be used more as a scat back when lined up back there. MM needs to understand this limitation when he designs and calls plays for Cobb going forward. Exposing Cobb to these types of violent hits would be careless.

Cobb’s evolution from a fifth-string WR in year 1 to a heavily-used, multi-purpose threat in year 2 has been the biggest offensive story of the first two games. I anticipate MM will scheme different ways to utilize Cobb and his skill set going forward. I expect a few passes – hopefully they connect this year – and plenty more plays out of the backfield. But, it’s a delicate balance in exploiting Cobb’s skill set while also not exposing him to potential injury.

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2012 NFL Draft: Act Two

Day 2 of the NFL Draft proved just as active Day 1 with trades up and down the two rounds. And, the two local squads flipped their tactics from Day 1 to Day 2. The Packers made two trades to grab two guys they covet, while the Vikes sat back, relaxed, and let a good player fall to them. Let’s take a look at how the two local squads fared.

Green Bay Packers 

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, the Packers needed players at all levels on defense. With their first three picks, the Packers added a quality player to all three levels on defense. After landing an uber-talented, athletic freak in Nick Perry, the Packers needed to add some DL and secondary help on day two. As we discussed, armed with too many draft picks, it was time for TT to make a move and jump up in the 2nd round to get a player that falls. As if he read the article (and why wouldn’t he have?), TT did exactly that, TWICE, in the second round.

Sitting with the 59th selection, TT moved up to the 51st selection to select the falling Jerel Worth, DT from Sparty. Worthy is a mammoth of an individual, standing at 6’2″ and 308 lbs., who also can run the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds. He has tremendous get-off, known for his ability to anticipate the snap and wreak havoc in the backfield. He’s strong, powerful, and quick. Basically, he’s exactly what the Packers need on the defensive line.

Of course, he wouldn’t have been a second-round pick with this background if there weren’t some red flags. Worthy, like many big defensive lineman, had a tendency to take plays off in college. He flashes some dominance and then disappears for stretches at a time. And the downside to his get-off is that he was often flagged for offsides last season. You can be sure opposing offenses will take note and work on Worthy with the hard-count. Despite these few red flags, Worthy was absolutely the right player to trade up and target. He cost only the Packers 4th round selection – which is not a huge loss considering the Packers have two compensatory picks in the 4th round still. TT’s decision to move up was also well-timed as two other defensive linemen followed the Worthy pick, including Devon Still, the other Big Ten DL that was linked to the Packers. Worthy was the best prospect of that group, and a coup for the Packers to get in the middle of round 2.

Not resting on his laurels, TT moved back into round 2 when he dealt the 3rd and 5th rd. picks to The Hoodie for the 62nd overall selection. TT plucked Casey Hayward, CB from Vanderbilt. Hayward is 5’11”, 185 lbs., and runs a 4.57 40-yard dash. Mike Mayock, NFL.com’s draft guru, calls Hayward an instinctive corner, and has the second-best hands in the draft for a corner, behind the no. 6 overall selection, Morris Claiborne, which is backed up by his 7 INT’s last season. One more encouraging stat is that opposing offenses completed only 19.5% of the passes thrown his way, which is even more impressive considering he played in the SEC. Hayward’s downside is that he is limited in his man-to-man coverage skills. His overall speed is only average, which will cause him to struggle keeping up with the speedy, twitchy type WR’s – think Percy Harvin. But, he plays well in zone coverage, reads the Quarterback well, and trusts his instincts. Again, TT anticipated what would happen well, and jumped up to get Hayward before a couple other CB’s were selected, including one by the Vikings.

Realizing the need to grab quality players at critical positions, TT broke away from his M.O. and traded up to get two players that filled major voids. Packers fans should be thrilled with what TT accomplished with these two picks to go along with Nick Perry. The defense should be vastly improved. As a result, don’t be surprised if you see Greg Jennings do this (go to the :18 mark) early in the season because with these three picks, TT may have re-established the Packers defense as a top-end defense that can get them back to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings

Well, if the first round of the 2012 NFL was an overwhelming success for Viking fans, then, the 2nd and 3rd rounds were a disappointing return to the norm. In previous drafts, like many other bewildered/clueless GMs, the Vikings brass have spoon fed the notion that they got the guy they wanted. In the third round of this year’s draft, that meant the selection of UCF cornerback, Josh Robinson.

Robinson is an explosive athlete and, with the right coaching, could be a top end DB. The raw talent is definitely there. Unfortunately, this coaching staff does not have a great track record for coaching up the secondary. Plus, many draft experts have noted that Robinson was a great fit for a secondary that employs a scheme with an emphasis on man-t0-man defenses. This is the kind of guy to put on an island. His skill set (i.e. football smarts) might not transfer well to the Cover 2 that the Vikes try to run. This could be an issue. Instead of trying to trade up, Rick “The Schemin'” Spielman decided to stand pat and take the guy they wanted.

Unfortunately, this meant passing up on two or three guys who might have been  better fits for the Vikes. For instance, both Houston and the Hoodie were willing to trade out of the latter part of the second round. It likely would have only taken one of the fourth round picks that the Vikes had to move up and grab either Casey Hayward (that is right, THAT Casey Hayward), Rueben Randle (a WR with first round talent playing in a run-first system), or Trumaine Johnson (the guy STL took right before the Vikes). Hayward and Johnson were allegedly perfect fits for the Cover 2 scheme. Randle was exactly the kind of game-changing WR that could give a much needed boost to what could best be described as a one-man show. His skills, while unproven, were of the first round variety. And, he was only drafted a few positions before Robinson was taken. Yet, the Vikes laid back. Waiting for the guy they wanted.

Now, if there are talented, potential starters in the 4th round that the Vikings brass are targeting (think another offensive lineman and additional defensive backs), then maybe it was right to relax and wait for Robinson to come to them. However, if Robinson cannot be coached up, one of those guys who could not spell C-A-T if you spotted him the C and the A, or, if there are no hidden gems in the fourth round, then it will be a wasted opportunity to not repeat the successful strategy from round one, where the Vikes leveraged later round picks into higher picks in the current rounds.

In economics, there is a theory of evaluation simply known as the opportunity cost – the balance between scarcity and choice. For the Vikings, opportunity cost means weighing the scarcity of getting a guy like Rueben or Hayward, against the choice of keeping their 4th round picks. Ultimately, the maturation of Josh Robinson is going to determine whether the team made the right choice. Though, the opportunity cost that the Packers paid in the first round by not drafting Hightower or Upshaw might be exactly the same as the opportunity cost that could cost the Vikings a solid stater like Randle or Hayward.

Stay tuned for more on the final rounds on Saturday. That is, when things get really testy.

2012 NFL Draft: Act One

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was wilder than a substance fueled Charlie Sheen all-nighter. The picks came in so hot they actually had to queue selections to allow the television coverage to catch-up – which may or may not have been the most annoying part of the show. (This was not.) There was a flurry of trades within the first round with multiple teams jockeying for guys they think can help their team win. This included some shrewd activity, both early and late, by one of the Border Rivals squads. While the other Border Rivals squad sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the High Life while he let the draft come to him.

The following is both a review of what happened during round one and what could happen in Friday’s sequel. To kick things off, let’s start with the surprisingly active half of the Border Rivals rivalry.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings shrewdly swapped their 3rd overall pick for the Browns 4th overall and their 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks. This trade marked a departure for a Vikings management group that has never swung a deal like this, despite fans clamoring for it. As long as this author has been alive, the Vikes have never been the team to make the savvy, draft-day move. In fact, quite the opposite, this was the team that was late bringing its pick to the podium not once, but TWICE. And yet tonight, the Vikes made the perfect move, not once, but TWICE.

Trading down from #3 was perfect because they not only landed the player they wanted anyway, Matt Kalil, but they leveraged the Browns into coughing up three additional picks. Then, they used one of those picks, to finance a trade to get back into the first round and get the other player they really wanted, safety Harrison Smith.

Mount Kalil’s considerable skills have been detailed on this site’s pages here. His presence at left tackle actually improves the Vikes at two positions because now last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson, can move inside to guard. As for Smith, he is a solid safety who will consistently make the heady play. He may not be flashy, but, he will make the ordinary plays, extraordinarily well (shout out to John Gagliardi for that line). This kind of consistency will be a nice departure from the practice squad All-stars that manned the porous secondary last year.

Ultimately though, the difference between this year’s draft being good and great is going to come down to whether the Vikings can replicate their mastery of the move in rounds two and three. Most draft “experts” agree that, barring a Tom Brady or Marques Colston suprise, this draft is about 100 players deep. That means the odds are in your favor for getting a decent NFL starter in the first three rounds. For that reason, the Vikes should use their bounty of picks in the later rounds to try and trade back into the second or third rounds. For a team with needs all over the field, two or three more decent NFL starters will make all the difference.

Green Bay Packers

Staying true to his M.O., TT patiently waited until his selection and (most likely) picked the best player available. Thankfully, TT’s best player available also happened to be the biggest need for the Packers – another OLB to rush the passer and compliment The Claymaker. Going back to the well, TT selected USC’s Nick Perry (OLB) with the 28th overall selection.

Perry started his career at USC playing the Elephant position (the same position The Claymaker made famous) and then converted to a DE force. In his final season (red-shirt junior year), Perry recorded 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks, good enough to lead the Pac-whatever-the-number-is-now in sacks. Perry is 6’3” and 270 lbs. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash (third-best for an OLB at the Combine) and benched 225 lbs. 35 times (good for 5th best out of all defensive linemen). The experts report that Perry’s biggest strengths are his burst off the ball, his overall quickness, which is especially impressive considering his size, and his relentless pursuit. Clearly, TT found another stud in the first-round, right?

Not so fast. Perry’s biggest weakness gives me cause for concern. He played primarily DE in college and any highlight package you see of Perry shows him with his hand in the ground. He undoubtedly has superior athleticism, but that’s not enough to win in the NFL. Even Perry proclaimed at the Combine that he’d prefer sticking his hand in the ground in a 4-3 over playing OLB in a 3-4. He knows how to get to the QB. But, it’s a complete guess whether he can fully play the OLB position in a 3-4 – i.e. can he play standing up, guard TE’s in open space, and not get lost in zone coverage. I have full faith in our coaching staff, most importantly Kevin Greene, to coach this young man up and get him ready – after all, they worked wonders with Frank Zombo in making him competent enough to start on a Super Bowl winning team. Still, it’s going to require some major coaching and there will certainly be some growing pains along the way to get Perry comfortable in his new OLB position.

In addition to this primary concern, I’m also a bit frustrated TT didn’t make a move to trade up and get a player – namely, Dont’a Hightower, a beast ILB from Alabama. The Hoodie traded a 4th round pick to move up and grab Hightower. It’s a nominal price, particularly since the Packers have three 4th round selections this year. I coveted getting a thumper ILB to pair with Bishop. And even if Hightower wasn’t the selection, it would have been nice to see TT move up to get a player he coveted given the low cost and superfluous picks we have this year. Along these lines, it was somewhat surprising TT went with Perry over Courtney Upshaw, OLB from Alabama. Upshaw seems to be the more proven OLB commodity having played that position in a 3-4 in college and for the best defense in the country. My guess is Perry’s superior athleticism pushed him over Upshaw and TT has full confidence in his staff to teach Perry the position.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 1st round for the Packers. A position of dire need was filled with an unquestionably talented player. Perry comes from an elite program and is an instant starter for us. That’s what you want out of an end-of-1st selection.

As for the 2nd-3rd rounds Friday night, I anticipate TT will continue to devote picks to the defense. The Packers own the 27th selection in both the 2nd (59th overall) and 3rd (90th) rounds. Stocked with three 4th round selections and 12 picks overall, I anticipate TT will not simply sit back and wait like he did in the 1st round. There is plenty of talent left on the board and believe TT could make a move up to grab a player he covets. He did this two years ago when he sniped Morgan Burnett, and it’s a model he should follow again this year. The Packers do not need 12 new players to add to the roster. Instead, the Packers need impact-players, ones that TT targets, and trades up to acquire.

There are several DE prospects still lingering – Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Kendall Reyes, and Jared Crick. Additionally, Courtney Upshaw, Lavonte David, Zach Brown, Ronnell Lewis, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, and Olivier Vernon are OLB prospects that are still on the board. Finally, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are CB’s that could interest the Packers. As you can tell, there’s a lot of talent for the taking in the second round. At least some of these players will start to fall. It’s time for TT to be aggressive and move up several spots to grab one of these players.

Prediction: I see TT going after the front 7 on defense again in the second round. If TT makes a move, he will go after Reyes or David. If he sits back and waits, the pick will be Crick or Lewis/Curry. In the 3rd round, he should try to get secondary help. One name to keep an eye out for is Casey Hayward from Vanderbilt. If he avoids the secondary, this may be the spot TT addresses the OL – either a guard (remember, T.J. Lang is a FA next year) or center.

For a change, both sides of the St. Croix should be pleased with the results from the 1st Rd. Friday night’s rounds 2 and 3 are just as important to both teams’ success. Enjoy the festivities and make sure to check back here for some reaction following the draft.