As the NFL season prepares to enter its homestretch, it's always important to keep an eye on rookies in case a breakout game is on the horizon. Seeing this develop is an art as much as it is a science, and we all know it pays to snag a good running back off the waiver wire a week before anybody else knows about him to avoid heavy competition after his first big game. Even if your fantasy team is good enough to make the playoffs, you should still be fine-tuning your roster to make your self as matchup-proof as possible. You have to be ready to take down the best opponent in your league if you want to take first place, so be ready to put forth your best effort.
Now, this running back we're looking at here is not one of the guys who'll likely win you a championship, so if that's what you're after than stop reading this article all together. But if you want to see how a running back we were high on earlier in the offseason is progressing, then this is something to check out. This is a small evaluation of David Cobb's first few games as a pro.
A 22-year-old rookie out of Minnesota, the Tennessee Titans running back was part of a 2015 running back class that many considered one of the best in a long time. Cobb wound up getting selected in the 5th round (138th overall) by the Tennessee Titans in what would become a totally revamped offense with fellow rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and recently hired head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was quickly fired after a 1-6 start in 2015 and 3-20 overall record with the team and the Titans opted to go with tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt as their interim head coach. So there's already been some volatility within the organization
Cobb certainly brings an array of physical skills to the table. When looking at Cobb as a draft prospect during the offseason, some of his traits immediately stood out in terms of transferring to the NFL level. For one, his physical nature and his ability to absorb contact despite not being an elite athlete made him intriguing. At 5'11, 229 lbs, he has a solid build which helps him maintain balance after getting hit. His undersized stature compared to bigger defenders helps him gain leverage at the point attack and his short burst is good enough to make him a candidate for 4 yards on any well-blocked play.
What he's done this season
Cobb's first year has been rocky to say the least. He was sidelined until Week 10 after suffering a severe calf injury during the preseason, where he totaled 79 yards on 19 carries (9.5 yards per carry). He finally saw his first snap in Week 11 on a Thursday night game against Jacksonville on the road, where he finished with just 3 yards on 4 carries. Cobb saw eight snaps total in that game.
In Week 12 in what would be his second played game of the season, Cobb saw a slight uptick in snaps with 12 but still turned in another paltry performance with just 8 yards on 3 carries. He also failed to secure his target of his NFL career on a pass in the flat that was thrown behind him a little bit but one he probably should've hauled in. A little context here, Cobb went up against the Oakland Raiders, a team with one of the better run defenses in the league overall.
Where he shows weakness
When looking at Cobb's small sample size (and it's important to note how this is a very small sample size where stats shouldn't serve as a major indicator of future success) one has to notice his struggles in identifying the correct running lane and his slow decisiveness when cutting up field. On a particular run, Cobb misread the running lane between the tackles and instead tried to cut it back where two defenders ended up tackling him for a minimal three-yard gain.
You can view this in the video below. When watching, notice when Cobb gets the ball out of the backfield, he's already deciding to use the cutback lane before he mentally processes how the blocks are unfolding and what running lanes are being created.
The play is designed for the linemen to push the defenders to the left side of the field to create a cutback lane to run through, so Cobb is doing what the play is designed to do and isn't entirely at fault for the minimal gain. Still, often times a successful run is the result of patiently waiting for your blocks to set up and using your own judgment to properly identify the best course of action. Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers is one of the best I've seen at this. It's a split-second difference in decision making, but it can lead to five-yard gain over a three-yard gain.
In summation, Cobb decides what to do too early, and the result is him missing a running lane being created that he likely would've seen had he waited a split second longer to make his cut. If he runs through that lane, the next closest defender to tackling him is the safety, who is 10 yards back. More than likely Cobb gains at least four yards in addition to a head of steam which could create more momentum after contact and allow him to fall forward for a few more yards.
Where he shows promise
One of Cobb's best traits is his balance through contact. On the run below, notice how it takes three defenders to bring him down. More importantly, notice how his equilibrium never changes throughout the run. This trait is a sign that Cobb is a physical runner and can break tackles consistently.
Now, there were still some negatives on this play for Cobb. He was a little tentative when searching for a running lane and notice how he rounded out the corner when shuffling his feet instead of sharply cutting in a more decisive way. Again, it points out his lack of mental processing at the current moment and his still adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. But his ability to absorb contact from three different angles and still find a way to fall forward is a sign that he could be a consistent four-yard rusher in the future.