The Randall Cobb debate: Old 27 or young eighth-year veteran?

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are a couple of ways of looking at Randall Cobb:

He’s an old 27 given the toll that 107 career NFL games, including playoffs, have taken on his body.

Or even though he’s entering his eighth NFL season, he’s not yet 28 years old.

This season could dictate how the Green Bay Packers receiver is viewed and what it means for his future with the team that picked him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

It’s a pivotal spot not only because he’s in the final season of a four-year, $40 million contract, but given the opportunities he should have after the Packers cut receiver Jordy Nelson this offseason. Some thought the Packers might dump Cobb and keep Nelson. Instead, the receiving corps consists of Cobb, Davante AdamsGeronimo Allison and a host of young, unproven players, including three draft picks.

A monster 2014 season — with 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns — created expectations that Cobb has not matched in part because of nagging injuries. He’s missed only four games combined the past two seasons, but he’s also played hurt throughout. That’s to his credit, although his production has slipped. Yet at times, there have been moments of brilliance; he caught three touchdowns in the 2016 playoff win over the Giants after he missed the last two weeks of the regular season because of an ankle injury. Cobb is again dealing with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the beginning of training camp, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“When he’s healthy and playing for us, our offense is a lot different,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this offseason. “I think we saw it a couple of years ago against the Giants when he came off some injuries and a disappointing season filled with multiple injuries, he had three touchdowns. Obviously one was the Hail Mary, but he had two other really nice plays for us in a big game. That’s what he can do for us when he’s out there.

“Tough guy to cover. He really understands coverages and route concepts and soft spots in zone — stuff you just can’t really teach. And he’s so multidimensional. We can obviously put him at punt returner, we can split him out, we can put him the backfield and give him the rock.”

Whether he likes it or not, Cobb is the old man in the receiver room. He’s no longer the highest paid; Adams’ four-year, $58 million extension late last season took care of that. But Cobb has the potential to give the Packers a difficult matchup in the slot for defenses to deal with. The 5-foot-10 former college quarterback has 432 career receptions in the regular season, and 337 of them have come from the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Even with the addition of a dynamic pass-catching tight end in Jimmy Graham, Cobb could have a significant role in the offense.

“He’s got a lot left,” Adams said. “He’s an incredible athlete, he’s still got the burners and he has a lot to offer for the young guys as well. You go out there and you watch how he gets down on the field; he’s consistent and he’s one of the best, one of the hardest-working guys in the game and in practice and things like that. It makes it easy for the young guys to pick up on that.”

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, Cobb has always been mature beyond his years. He was 20 when the Packers drafted him, and in his NFL debut he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the Saints. On that night, he became the first player born in the 1990s to play in an NFL game.

“When I came in, I thought about him like he was 10 years in,” said Adams, who joined the Packers in 2014, Cobb’s fourth year. “It’s funny, because when [Allison] came in [in 2016] he said the same thing about me. He felt like I was an old guy. And I still don’t feel like an old guy now. So now, when they come in, I let them know — I’m right there with you. I’m not that old just yet.”

So how does Cobb feel?

“Do I feel like the old man in the room?” he said. “I feel like I’m still young, but they’re looking at me like I’m old, so I guess I must be.”

Not so fast, according to Cobb’s new receivers coach, David Raih.

“This business is funny, like 27 years old all of a sudden you’re old,” Raih said. “I just think there’s a lot of football left in Randall Cobb, and especially now this guy is one of the most tenacious people I’ve been around — and I’m talking about all the time. His story, too, I mean his entire life he’s heard something along those lines.

“And that’s just something that fuels his fire. He and I come in and we just have a business approach together, and I think it meshes well. I’m excited about Randall because every single day, every rep you can see him trying to use what he’s learning and what we’re talking about to improve his game, and he’s got the type of approach that will get results.”

By the time his eighth NFL season opens on Sept. 9 against the Bears, Cobb will be 28; his birthday is Aug. 22.

Just don’t tell that to his quarterback, who tried to settle the young/old issue.

“He’s done a number of things for us over the years, and still he’s relatively young,” Rodgers said. “First player born in the 1990s, so he’s not even 28 yet. He’s obviously a great friend of mine, but I look for a resurgence from him this year as long as he can stay healthy.”