GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 16: Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers complains to a referee during a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field on August 16, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Donald Driver is still hanging around.
Many fans believed Driver's career with the Green Bay Packers was done during the spring, and almost everyone assumed that he would be seriously demoted once he signed a new restructured contract. Randall Cobb was, and still is, the heir apparent to the slot receiver role. However, Driver is not going down without a fight.
Cobb performed well in the first game of preseason, but certainly hasn't done enough to cement his role as the No. 3 receiver in the Packers offense. All camp long, we've heard daily reports about how the old man still has it. He's been beating defensive backs and grabbing big catches all summer long, and he's appeared to be Cobb's equal (as far as playing time with the first unit goes) at worst during the first two preseason games.
The upside to playing each receiver as the primary man in the slot is obvious. Cobb has absolutely blistering speed and is a very raw second year player. His ceiling is higher than Driver's ever was, and he's only going to approach that ceiling with playing time. Due to his natural talent alone, Cobb should be able to produce at a level very similar to Driver this season. By next year, Cobb should be the better player.
That's not to mention his big play capability, something that Driver probably doesn't have in him anymore. Cobb has the ability to turn any simple slant pattern or wide receiver screen into a touchdown.
The main argument for Driver's continued role in the team is a cliche one: He has experience. But what he brings to the team is much more important to that, and his qualities deserve to be elaborated on. Generally, sports fans know what one player being more experienced than another entails, but it's worth laying it out for the purposes of this comparison.
Driver is, obviously, a much sharper route-runner than Cobb. There's no reason to believe that Cobb won't match up to Driver in this capacity very shortly, but for a team that is trying to win the Super Bowl this season, it might be important to have the best route-runner on the team in the slot. Driver also consistently makes very difficult catches and does an excellent job holding onto the ball after being hit. We don't know whether or not Cobb can do this consistently simply because we haven't seen it yet. He hasn't gone over the middle and taken a lick from a safety or linebacker ready to pounce on very many occasions in his professional career.
But there's one thing that isn't purely physical that Cobb might do better than Driver right now: Catching the easy ones. For all of Driver's spectacular grabs in traffic and crisp, clean routes that allow him to beat corners despite his lack of speed, he drops easy passes. The drops seem to come in less critical spots than those of, say, the often criticized James Jones, but Driver actually drops the ball slightly more frequently than Jones does. From what we've seen out of Cobb in his college and professional career, he actually drops the easy balls much less often than Driver does.
There are pros and cons to each player winning the job, but I'm still in the pro-Cobb camp. Driver is still a very useful player, but he isn't consistently effective enough for him to beat out Cobb simply on experience and reliability.
On Thursday night, expect Driver to take the field the first time the first team offense goes three-wide, but I'm not expecting that to last into the Week 1 game against the San Fransisco 49ers.
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