Photo by Reggie Hildred for The Sports Capitol

Guided by his father, overlooked Cobbs Jr. out to silence critics

BY BEN PORTNOY | JUNE 19, 2018

REDSKINS PARK – Following an open OTA session in May, Simmie Cobbs Jr. joined fellow rookie receivers Trey Quinn and De’mornay Pierson-El at the JUGS machine for some post-practice reps.

At 6-3, 220 pounds – ideal size for a prototypical red-zone target in the NFL – Cobbs towered over the other two youthful receivers.

Cobbs’ stature is hard to miss. His hands equally so. He made more than a few acrobatic one-handed catches á la Odell Beckham Jr. during his four years at Indiana.

But for all the talent Cobbs possesses, he still finds himself trying to make the Redskins roster after being passed on in May’s NFL Draft. At least three receiver slots are taken. Perhaps as many as three more remain open. That’s why Cobbs and other undrafted free agents arrived in Ashburn over other situations.

“100 percent,” Cobbs told The Sports Capitol as to whether going undrafted put a chip on his shoulder. “At the end of the day I take it as part of God’s plan. You know, everything I think about is God’s plan. So it’s only motivating me to work just as hard and I want to go out there and prove something like I’ve been proving since high school.”

“He’ll definitely use that as motivation, that’s just the way he is” Indiana offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “He’s got a lot of things in his life where people have bet against him and he’s succeeded so, you know, I think that’ll just be another one.”

In Bloomington circles Cobbs’ story is well known. He lost his father in 2005 – the basketball gracing wings and bearing a crown with the words “Simmie Sr.” tattooed on his left pectoral serves as a reminder of this. He bounced around homes as a child before settling down in the western suburbs of Chicago with his grandmother in fifth grade.

Football-wise, after originally committing to Purdue out of high school, the Boilermakers staff wanted Cobbs to switch to defensive back. That wasn’t an option. He subsequently flipped his pledge to Indiana where he could continue as a wideout.

Entering the draft process, most Indiana pundits projected Cobbs anywhere between a third- and seventh-round pick. When the Oak Park, Ill., native didn’t hear his name called any of the three days of the draft it was a shock to most around the program.

Some argued it was Cobbs’ mediocre 4.64 40-yard dash that bothered teams. Others said it was character concerns after he was arrested at a Jason Aldean concert for refusal to identify and resisting law enforcement in 2017 and his suspension for Indiana’s 2016 season opener. His injury history was also well documented. An ankle injury in the second game of his junior year against Ball State ended his season – one in which he had been named to the Maxwell and Biletnikoff Award Watch Lists.

So yes, given the mix of a perceived lack of speed, off-the-field antics and a severe injury, there were real concerns about Cobbs coming out of Indiana. But for all the perceived issues, when on the field in college he was nothing short of dominant.

A First-Team All-Big Ten performer in 2017, Cobbs totaled 72 receptions for 841 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games as a senior. Before losing his junior year to injury, Cobbs was equally prolific as a sophomore when he tallied 60 receptions for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games.

“He’s gone against some of the best defenses in college football this past year,” DeBord told The Sports Capitol. “I mean Michigan’s defense was ranked very high, Penn State’s, Michigan State’s, Ohio State’s, Wisconsin. I mean every week we lined up against one of the top-10 defenses in the country at that time and obviously he played very well so I think it will do nothing but help him.”

It’s been well publicized that the Redskins need receiver help. Josh Doctson is entering a prove-it year, Jamison Crowder’s production dipped some in 2017 and new deep-threat Paul Richardson Jr. really only showed flashes in Seattle.

Top-three receivers aside, where Cobbs is competing for a spot is in the fourth-to-sixth receiver range. Maurice Harris, Brian Quick and Robert Davis return but none are roster locks. Pierson-El has already been cut. Early indications from OTAs point towards Quinn being a shoe-in. Another undrafted free agent, Cam Sims, stood out during spring practices.

The craving to latch on to a spot with the Redskins has been apparent in Cobbs’ performance thus far. Yet  in his speech, as much as anything else, the opportunity is more about a son making his father proud.

“He would probably be just lost for words,” Cobbs said of what his father’s reaction would be to seeing him on an NFL field. “You know I still can see the face in my mind. Every day I step on the field I let him know that it’s a blessing we’re here.”

Ben Portnoy is a summer intern for The Sports Capitol. A rising-senior at Indiana University, he has covered the IU football program extensively as a beat writer for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, IN. His work has also appeared with The Naples Daily News, The First Week in April and Más+Menos – a Spanish-language magazine in Seville, Spain. Ben co-hosts “The Takeoff” on 99.1 WIUX and does on-air commentary for Big Ten Network-Student U. Follow Ben on Twitter at Bportnoy15.

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