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Spin Doctors: Randall Cobb vs. Jordy Nelson

Scott Pianowski
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Is Cobb a stretch as a WR1? (USAT)

Everyone knows the deal with the high-powered Green Bay offense. The Packers throw, throw, and throw some more, and they generally score like Brad Pitt at a sorority party. Bang on the drum all day, indeed.

Aaron Rodgers is the consensus choice as the best quarterback in football, and he's got plenty of intriguing targets at his disposal. When push comes to shove and you need some Cheesehead love, who's your first receiver pick? It's time for Dalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski to play the feud, arguing about Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

D3 orders a Cobb Salad: First let me be clear, I see this as an extremely close debate. As the bigger receiver likely to see more targets in the red zone, there’s no question Nelson has more touchdown potential. In fact, he’s scored 22 times over his past 28 games (while playing hurt for much of last season). However, it may also be worth noting he’s reached 750 receiving yards in just one of his five seasons in the NFL.

Cobb, meanwhile, really broke out last year, when he was targeted 102 times while playing just 651 snaps, which was the eighth highest percentage (15.7) in the league. He often lines up in the backfield, creating a huge mess for defenses, and his 14 missed tackles last season were the fourth most among wide receivers. Cobb finished as Pro Football Focus’ 11th most valuable wide receiver despite playing the 58th most snaps. With Donald Driver retired, Greg Jennings now playing in Minnesota and Cobb further developing in his third year in the league, it’s safe to project him seeing the field far more in 2013.

Nelson’s string of injuries last year may ultimately prove to be just a fluke, but it’s hard not to consider Cobb the safer bet health wise entering 2013. He’s still just 22 years old with plenty of room for growth playing in one of the league’s best passing offenses. Cobb has the upside to easily finish as a top-10 fantasy WR. In PPR formats, it’s even higher than that.

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Will Nelson stay on the field this fall? (USAT)

Pianow goes Full Nelson: I come to Green Bay with full reverence, in awe of the potential of the offense. Rodgers turned James Jones into a touchdown machine a year ago, for crying out loud. Take a bow, No. 12, and you do the same, Mike McCarthy. Anyone in the regular rotation here is welcome on my make-believe roster. That all said, it's a game about opinions and a game about choices, and Nelson is the man I'm looking to first.

I'm not willing to accept Cobb as the automatic safe bet from an injury perspective. Nelson has 25 pounds and five inches on his younger teammate, and No. 87 had no problem playing full seasons in 2010 and 2011. But even if we assume both players log a full season (or an even one), Nelson shows more potential on my clipboard.

If you go Nelson over Cobb, you might get an interesting double-dip in your favor: Nelson seems to be the better deep threat (the YPC column tells us that) and he's clearly the more involved goal-line option (that's where the height advantage really comes in handy).

Maybe Cobb will expand his route tree this fall (players do improve, especially around their third season), but don't lose track of the work around the scoring stripe. Nelson had 11 targets in the red zone and four touchdowns last year (despite missing four games) while Cobb checked in with seven targets and three scores. If we look inside the 10, it's Nelson again: five targets and three scores, as opposed to two and two for Cobb (in three additional games).

Cobb has more paths to the ball, of course - he's an exciting return man and dangerous as an occasional running option. But I keep coming back to those 5-10, 192 numbers on the roster. I suspect McCarthy & Co. realize they need to be careful of not overworking or overexposing their electric-but-slight playmaker.

A lot of fantasy players are dreaming of Cobb's potential, but we've already seen what Nelson is capable of doing at his best: note the monstrous 68-1263-15 jamboree he rang up in 2011. Things weren't as much fun last year but a 745-yard campaign and seven scores isn't bad work for someone who missed a quarter of the schedule (and played through injuries in several other games). Cobb's exciting efficiency gets your attention, sure, but it's often a fool's errand to assume a high success rate will fully translate to increased opportunity (not to mention the extra defensive attention). Nelson's combination of floor and upside (along with a more established resume) commands the check mark.

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