GREEN BAY – After an offseason where the narrative swirled around comings and goings on the Packers’ roster, it was Aaron Rodgers’ longest-tenured receiving target who stole the show during Sunday’s season opener against Chicago.
Randall Cobb, the eldest of the eight receivers currently under contract with the Packers, caught nine of 10 targeted passes for a career-high 142 yards, including the 75-yard run-and-catch touchdown that propelled Green Bay to an emotional 24-23 comeback win in the first game of the franchise’s 100th season.
Cobb’s 142 receiving yards were the seventh-most of Week 1 and marked the 15th time in his career (including playoffs) he’s had at least 100 receiving yards in a game.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy has often said one of the key emphases of the Packers’ offense is to get the ball in Cobb’s hands and it’s easy to see why. In those 15 games Cobb has eclipsed the century mark, the Packers have prevailed 13 times.
“That was vintage Cobb right there,” said receiver Davante Adams after the game. “That’s why he’s here and that’s why he continues to make plays, and always wow us, especially in the big moment like that. He’s a playmaker and he’s going to continue to do that.”
The Packers have remained steadfast about Cobb’s capabilities despite a few injury flare-ups in recent years. Last year, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound receiver managed to become one of just five players in franchise history to record 60 or more receptions in four consecutive seasons.
If Cobb does it again in 2018, he’ll join only Donald Driver (2004-09) and Sterling Sharpe (1989-94) to accomplish that feat in five consecutive seasons.
This offseason, all eyes were on the signing of five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham and the Packers’ decision to draft three rookie receivers. Behind the scenes, however, Cobb was working to improve his own game with offensive pass-game coordinator Jim Hostler and receivers coach David Raih.
Cobb said he’s seen the biggest difference in his game in “some of the new things that I’ve tried to implement in my route-running this year,” along with “some of the things I wanted to change in my releases and some of the things that I’m doing with my steps.”
Joe Philbin, who returned in January to the offensive-coordinator job he previously held in Green Bay from 2007-11, was on staff when the Packers drafted Cobb in the second round out of Kentucky in 2011.
Back then, Philbin remembers Cobb as a young slot receiver who used his instincts to succeed. Today, Cobb has blossomed into a wily veteran who has mastered the route tree and yet still possesses the explosiveness to thrive in the middle of the field.
“I thought he was real decisive out there, not a lot of hesitation in his play,” Philbin said. “I think overall he’s not just kind of a guy who can run short stop-start routes inside. I think he has flexibility and really good awareness and coverage recognition, can adjust his route. He stays friendly for the quarterback. I thought he got off to a good start.”
As much attention as Cobb’s career day garnered on offense, the 28-year-old receiver also stepped up as an emergency option on punt returns after Trevor Davis experienced a hamstring flare-up that morning, gaining 17 yards on his lone return.
While Cobb didn’t field a single punt in a game last season, the veteran receiver has long been considered the Packers’ best option based on his combination of playmaking skills and dependability, which played into McCarthy’s decision to give Cobb the short-notice assignment.
With Davis being placed on injured reserve Monday, McCarthy confirmed this week Cobb will remain the Packers’ primary punt returner “as of today.”
“What makes him special as a wide receiver – he’s got a knack,” said special teams coordinator Ron Zook on Cobb’s effectiveness as a returner. “He’s got great vision, great quickness, great acceleration. Just like as a wide receiver, he’s got all the tools. It’s why we use him more in the backfield, coming out of the backfield and get the ball in his hands. He can do things special when the ball is in his hands.”
Cobb considers himself the big brother of the Packers’ receivers room, a sentiment echoed by rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the locker room this week when he playfully stated he wants to be Cobb when he grows up.
For Green Bay, there are heavy implications when a healthy Cobb is featured in the offense. To this day, he’s one of Rodgers’ most trusted targets and a constant threat to bleed defenses for yards after the catch.
The Packers have a new bag of tricks up their sleeves after rewriting their playbook and adding Graham this offseason, but Cobb also remains a steady, even-keeled presence in the heart of the passing game.
“It just shows you not only his versatility but really his primary ability,” McCarthy said. “I think anytime you have a player that has 10 targets and nine receptions, that speaks volumes about his ability, the expertise of the route running and what he’s doing on the other side of the completion.”