Cobb agreed to terms with the Houston Texans on the first day of the legal negotiating period, the same day coach and general manager Bill O’Brien traded away Hopkins, a three-time first-team All-Pro.
“I think obviously with DeAndre [Hopkins] leaving, it’s going to be a lot of eyes on all three of us [wide receivers Will Fuller, Kenny Stills and Cobb] to step up and make some plays,” Cobb said in a teleconference with Houston media on Friday. “In particular me, because a lot of people are looking at me coming in and being a replacement, even though me and DeAndre are two totally different types of receivers.”
Instead, Cobb is likely a replacement for 2018 fourth-round pick Keke Coutee, who struggled in his second season and was a healthy scratch in several games after O’Brien said Coutee needed to be better with his attention to detail in practice.
Cobb, who had 55 catches for 828 yards in 15 games last season for the Dallas Cowboys, finally gives O’Brien a reliable slot receiver, a position the Texans have struggled to fill since the coach was hired in 2014. Since that year, the Texans have had a long list of fill-ins who have not had very much success in the role: Damaris Johnson, Cecil Shorts III, Braxton Miller, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Carter and Coutee.
The Texans gave Cobb a relatively large contract, paying him $27 million over three years, with $19 million guaranteed at signing. As a comparison, last year the Tennessee Titans signed slot receiver Adam Humphries for $36 million over four years with $19 million guaranteed. Humphries, who had 37 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games last season, is three years younger than Cobb.
Cobb said one reason he picked Houston was because of the opportunities O'Brien will give him to do things similar to what he did when he played for the Packers, the team with which he spent his first eight seasons. The other was the chance to play with a quarterback he believes can take the Texans to the Super Bowl.
“The reason I picked the Texans is obviously you look at what they’ve been able to do over the past few years,” Cobb said. “Went to the playoffs four of the past five times. At this point in my career, I still don’t have a ring, so I want to be in a situation where I have that possibility. And I think when you look at Deshaun [Watson] and what he’s been able to do since he’s been in the league.
“I’ve been really impressed from afar, watching him. He has tremendous ability, and he’s a winner. He’s won at every level. ... I think he has that ability to take us to a Super Bowl, and I want to be a part of something special with him.”
Fuller, Stills and Cobb will get some company, however. Now that the first wave of free agency is done and the NFL draft is less than a month away, here are three options the Texans could look at with their top draft pick (No. 40, received from Arizona in the trade for Hopkins):
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
In 2019 at ASU, Aiyuk averaged 18.3 yards per catch with eight touchdowns. He has a big catch radius and could also help the Texans on kickoff and punt returns. Aiyuk has the ability to run after the catch and said at the combine, “With my running back background, I feel like after I catch the football, I transition back into that running back I used to be.”
Tee Higgins, Clemson
Higgins might not be on the board if Houston holds at No. 40, but the 6-foot-3 receiver is a good route runner and could be an excellent red zone target for Watson. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Higgins going in the first round in his latest mock draft, where he touts Higgins’ “elite ball skills." In 2019, Higgins had 59 catches for 1,167 yards (an average of 19.8 yards per reception) and 13 touchdowns at Clemson.
Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
Shenault is a versatile receiver who plays with a lot of physicality. He has strong hands and good body control. Last month, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Shenault would have surgery to repair a core muscle injury, but that could mean he's still on the board for the Texans at No. 40. In 2019, Shenault had 56 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns for Colorado.