Cobb wants opportunity, not accolades

David Cobb isn’t worried about the rankings; he just wants an opportunity to prove he belongs in the NFL. The respectful running back is improving his stock at the Senior Bowl this week.

MOBILE, Ala. — There’s a lot to like about David Cobb, beginning with the first time the University of Minnesota running back says “sir.”

That’s the influence of his father, Caesar, a 26-year U.S. Army veteran, and mother, Nina, a nurse. They raised him in Killeen, Texas, to be respectful, honest, trust in your faith, pray and be thankful.

So he says “sir” a lot. And Cobb is immediately likable for that humble demeanor.

While ranked with the better players at his position for the upcoming NFL draft, Cobb isn’t among the elite options on anyone’s projected list. In fact, one ranking has him listed behind four other backs participating with him at this week’s Senior Bowl — Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne, Northern Iowa’s David Johnson and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford.

It would appear Cobb is flying under the radar when adding to that list of running backs everyone’s usual suspects who aren’t playing in Saturday’s game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium — Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, among others.

Cobb shrugs his right shoulder and smiles at the observation.

“Under the radar, I mean, I don’t judge that, you know, I don’t write the stories,” he said. “But me, I’m as confident as anybody out here, anybody in this bowl game, and I have a chip on my shoulder no matter what I do and I compete.

“Being in the spotlight doesn’t concern me. As long as I get an opportunity somewhere, I’m OK with it.”

Then he smiles again. He does that a lot, too. And it’s a confident smile, as it should be.

Cobb set single-season school records with 1,626 rushing yards and 314 carries in 13 games as a senior. He had one of his best games against eventual national champion Ohio State with 145 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. He had seven 100-yard games, as well as a pair of 200-yard efforts, and scored 13 touchdowns.

“The Big Ten is a running conference, you have to run the ball in the Big Ten if you want to win and I think we all see that,” he said. “Then again, man, I don’t worry about all that. I just try to do what’s best for the team. If that’s me getting 100, 200 yards and we win, I’m OK with that.”

That explains how he’s handled his practice snaps with poise at the Senior Bowl. Cobb is a compact 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, bigger than other backs but he has excellent foot speed for his size. He’s taken care of business with ease, making plays here and there, then welcoming the chats with NFL scouts.

The upcoming draft, by most accounts, is loaded with capable running backs. But what could make the selection process interesting is how soon NFL teams start the run on these players.

Longtime NFL executive and current NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt of listed the top three needs for each of the 32 teams and didn’t evaluate one team’s No. 1 priority as a running back. Two teams were listed with running back as a second need, the Minnesota Vikings at No. 11 and Baltimore Ravens at No. 26. Three other teams were listed with running back as a third need, Jacksonville at No. 3, St. Louis at No. 10 and New England at either No. 31 or 32 depending upon the outcome of Super Bowl XLIX.

That could mean running backs don’t start coming off the board until the second round. But the draft is known for surprises, and once the first one’s name is called, teams might change their priorities on the fly for fear of missing their preferred choice.

Cobb, 21, grew up admiring running backs Eddie George and Terrell Davis. Of today’s running backs, he mentions an appreciation for the running styles of the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. He thinks his skillset is similar to Bell and Houston’s Arian Foster.

There’s not a hint of boastfulness in sharing the names of these NFL stars. He likes them and aspires to join them someday soon.

“It’s always been a dream,” he said of the NFL, “and I’m so fortunate and I’m blessed to have great people around me supporting me, a supporting family, people who want to see me do well.

“I mean, I haven’t proved anything yet. I just played in college. I have a lot to prove. Hopefully I get the opportunity and hopefully I can prove it somewhere with some team.”

That’s why he’s in Alabama, and enjoying the experience.

“Yes, sir, definitely,” he said. “You come down here to compete and show you’re the best.”

NFL scouts have asked him about his background and he’s more than willing to share the personal details of his life, particularly his upbringing and those closest to him.

“I’m proud of my family, I love my family to death, I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Cobb said, “and I’m comfortable with myself. Just be myself.”

His family should see him in an NFL uniform come August.

“Yes, sir,” he said, flashing that engaging smile once more. “It would definitely be a dream come true.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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