All-Purpose Cobb Brings New Dimension to Pack

Randall Cobb (Nelson Chenault/US Presswire)

It takes two hands to count the number of positions Randall Cobb has played. A couple of his positions just might help a spot that has ailed the Packers for years. Matt Tevsh has the story from Lambeau Field.

If Ted Thompson has failed in one area during his building of the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers, it has been his inability to find a consistent return specialist that can stay healthy.

That might change after the selection of second-round pick Randall Cobb on Friday night during the NFL Draft.

Cobb, a 5-10, 192-pound dynamo who is listed as a wide receiver, played six positions during his career at Kentucky. And while he will provide depth to a talented receiver corps in Green Bay, he is expected to get a shot returning kicks and punts.

"His coaches there at Kentucky can't say enough good things about him," said Thompson. "Obviously a marvelous addition to special teams, but he is a legitimate receiver. Very good with the ball in his hands.

"He was kind of Kentucky's offense the last couple years. We feel very fortunate to add him to our team. I think he gives us a lot of versatility."

Cobb, a junior entry into the draft, is coming off a season in which he set an SEC record with 2,396 all-purpose yards. His 184.3 yards per game was second in the NCAA. While coming to the Wildcats as a quarterback, he evolved into a multipurpose threat at wide receiver, running back and as a kickoff and punt returner.

Among the 4,674 all-purpose yards over 35 games, he returned 44 kickoffs for 1,081 yards (24.6 yards per return) and 63 punts for 619 yards (9.8 yards per return). Two of his punt returns went back for touchdowns.

Though the Packers have had five special-teams returns for touchdowns since 2005, they have routinely ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in yards per return. Outside of Will Blackmon, who battled injuries for four seasons with the Packers before being released in 2010, the Packers have tried 19 players as primary return men over the past six seasons.

Last season the Packers ranked 22nd in kick return average and 26th in punt return average. Combined, that was the fourth-worst ranking in the league.

Moreover, Jordy Nelson was benched halfway through the season on kickoff returns after ball-security issues and ineffectiveness (22.5 yards per return), and starting Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams was used as the primary punt return man.

Cobb's all-around talent has been compared to the Steelers' Antwaan Randle El and the Vikings' Percy Harvin. He just might be the Packers' best return specialist possibility in years.

"That's what the coaches want, and that's what they're looking for out of me, to be one of those guys," said Cobb. "I believe I could be. But I am just going to sit back and figure out what my role is on the team, whatever they tell me."

For his size, Cobb is remarkably durable. Considering the number of snaps he played as a multipurpose threat – including quarterback out of the wildcat formation and as a holder on kicks – he rarely missed any action due to injury.

"Nothing major," he said. "A few injuries. But just minor things I have been able to play through the past few years."

The Packers know all too well how injuries held back Blackmon, who showed the most explosiveness of any return man in the Thompson era. As draft picks go, the only other stab Thompson has taken on a return specialist during his time in Green Bay – 2006 fourth-round pick Cory Rodgers of TCU - failed miserably.

With Cobb, the Packers are hoping they have the best of everything. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, for one, took notice of Cobb's selection by tweeting, "A RETURN MAN!!"

"That's great," said Cobb of Matthews' tweet, "and the first thing I want to do is get in there and earn their respect. And I want to go in and work as hard as I possibly can to do that. Whatever I can do to help, if they feel like I can be a great return man, I think that would make them want to block for me a little better."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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