Note: With the Lions in need of a running back, we’ve been examining RBs from this year’s talented draft crop. We’ve studied Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Jay Ajayi and Jeremy Langford. Today, our film series spotlights Minnesota’s David Cobb.
A version of this article was published by the Detroit Free Press.
If you like smashmouth football with a big, downhill, physical runner as your lead ball carrier, then David Cobb is for you.
A powerful, bruising back in the mold of Joique Bell, Cobb posted eye-popping numbers for the Gophers despite being paired with a horrific passing attack that ranked 121 out of 128 FBS teams in yards per game.
With the threat of a passing game minimized, Cobb routinely faced heavy attention from defenses, yet maintained his effectiveness. He regularly churned out 5-to-10 yard gains and rarely put his team in a bad position by taking negative yardage.
At 5-foot-11, 229 pounds, Cobb has the size and strength to hold up in the NFL as a true workhorse back. He averaged over 25 carries per game last season in Big Ten play, including a masterful 27-carry, 145-yard, three touchdown performance in mid-November against eventual national champion Ohio State.
Looking at Cobb’s spider graph from the NFL combine, you will see he scored similarly to Bell. Cobb strained his quad while running the 40-yard dash at the combine and was forced to sit out all on-field drills. At his pro day Monday, Cobb worked out for teams including the Lions, running a more appropriate 4.65 40-time.
Let’s pour over Cobb’s game tape and delve deeper into his traits as a runner.
Cobb was a true workhorse back last season, racking up 314 carries for 1,626 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 13 TDs. He ran for 1,202 yards (5.1 YPC) and seven TDs on 237 attempts in 2013.
Power, strength and balance
Cobb is difficult to tackle when he’s running downhill. He has a compact build with a strong lower body, allowing him to barrel through tackle attempts and carry defenders who are unable to match his physicality and strength. Cobb runs with great balance because of his low pad level, which also affords him the necessary leverage at the point of impact to deliver blows and continue moving forward.
Here, he sniffs out an opening, lowers his head and shoulders, and plows over the safety for an extra 4 yards after contact. He maintains excellent balance through contact and only goes down once a herd of defenders pile on top of him.
Cobb consistently racks up yards after contact. On this impressive 20-yard run, he breaks multiple tackles within a few yards of the line of scrimmage, and then carries four Wolverines for a ride.
Cobb is the type of back you want to feed when you’re backed up against your own goal line. Give him the ball and let him blast forward to give your team some breathing room.
These are the types of runs you will see from Cobb and these skills translate to the NFL.
Cobb isn’t a dynamic playmaker, but he possesses smooth change of direction abilities and has enough wiggle in him to make defenders miss. His fluid hips allow him to make crisp downhill cuts and he doesn’t lose much speed when he sidesteps a defender.
On this run, Cobb keeps his hips pointed upfield even though he runs almost parallel to the line of scrimmage. This allows him to easily cut vertically once he gains the edge.
This is an important trait because runners with stiff hips aren’t able to change direction as quickly and fluidly. Cobb excels in this area due to his loose hips.
Cobb isn’t a shake-and-bake runner, but he has mobility to make one man miss. Against Wisconsin, Cobb showcases the entire package. He runs downhill in a hurry, finds a small seam, breaks a tackle, and puts a crisp cut on the defensive back on his way to the end zone.
At the Senior Bowl, Cobb reportedly was impressive in practice, then tallied 69 rushing yards on 11 carries in the game. He found the cutback lane before dishing out a slick move on this defender in the open field.
Due to the passing game issues and the pro style power run scheme that utilized mostly one or two receivers, Cobb faced a muddied line of scrimmage more often than just about every other top RB. He showed the agility to navigate through tight quarters and gain positive yardage.
Cobb rarely strings together multiple moves, but he is light on his feet in space especially for a running back his size. The one knock on him is that he lacks the explosion and burst out of his cuts that many of the other highly rated RBs in this draft have.
Cobb recorded 33 receptions for 336 yards combined over the past two seasons. He showed reliable hands in the four games that I watched, though his lack of burst was again noticeable.
Against Nebraska, Cobb s
The Gophers used Cobb on three middle screens against Michigan, and had him release into the flats in others, but he wasn’t asked to run a variety of routes in college. It’s fair to question whether he’ll be able to create separation against NFL defenders if he’s asked to run a more versatile route tree out of the backfield. He may not be a dangerous weapon as a receiver but he should be adequate.
Cobb has the size and strength to be extremely useful in pass protection, but like most college backs, he struggled and needs work to refine his technique. He doesn’t play to his body strength, lunges too much and let’s the defender come into his body instead of attacking his assignment by extending his arms to deliver a punch.
On the play below, Cobb should have positioned himself on the defender’s inside shoulder and shoved him upfield, which would have allowed the quarterback to step up in the pocket (and be sacked by the defensive tackle who came free. But the point remains).
Per Pro Football Focus, Cobb allowed the most pressures (11) among all RBs in Division I (FBS). He was more successful at cut blocking, usually spilling his defender to the ground. Cobb has the size, strength, and desire to pass block so this isn’t as much as a concern as it would be for some of the other RBs who lack his tools.
NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein lists Stevan Ridley as Cobb’s comparison, as does NFL Films maven Greg Cosell. Like Cobb, Ridley is a physical RB with average speed but runs with balance and power. Cobb has more lateral movement skills than Ridley, who carved out a nice career with New England before signing with the New York Jets this off-season.
Cobb surprisingly saw a ball-security problem surface as a senior. He had six fumbles on 330 touches, which equates to one fumble per 55 touches. He was far better in 2013, putting the ball on the ground just twice in 254 touches.
Cobb is an efficient, tough between the tackles runner with decent vision and instincts. He lacks the speed and acceleration to win on the outside and he won’t run away from defenses. Watch him quickly lose the angle once he finds his way to the outside.
However, Cobb understands his limitations, takes what the defense gives him, and has the vision and agility to exploit teams.
Projected as a mid-round pick, Cobb may be part of a tandem with a speed back in year one. If he can prove he can help a team on third-down in the passing game, he could earn the acclaimed title of a three-down back and be another high volume, high impact contributor from this RB class.
With Bell, who will be 29 in August, coming off two surgeries to his lower leg this off-season, the Lions could view Cobb as his eventual replacement and take a stab at the Gophers newly crowned single-season rushing leader.
Credit to Draft Breakdown for the game footage. All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.