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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,038

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This is the grave of Reggie Cobb.

Born in 1968 in Knoxville, Tennessee, it was almost destiny that Reggie Cobb would be a Tennessee Volunteer. He would become a dominant high school running back, as well as a track star. One of the best players in the state, it would seem natural that he would be a Vol. But Tennessee, even back when it was a national power, is a bit weird because the state is so long and skinny that Memphis, the real center of high school football in the state, is very far away, much farther than Alabama, which has always considered Memphis in its backyard. Moreover, Knoxville is an extremely white place, at least for a southern city. So that was no guarantee. Tennessee always relied on a more regional recruiting strategy that had an inherent weakness–what if all the potential powers who weren’t good, such as Florida, actually started paying attention to football. That’s the current state of Tennessee football in a nut shell–in one of the worst recruiting locations in the South and now competing with a lot of other high-powered programs. They also have one of the most ridiculously entitled fan bases in the nation.

So it was lucky for the Vols, even back then, that Cobb was from Knoxville. He committed to Tennessee in 1986, part of one of the greatest recruiting classes for school in the 1980s, a class that also included people such as Alvin Harper, Tracy Hayworth, and Anthony Miller. He redshirted his freshman year as the school was stacked with veteran backs. Then in 1987, he took the starting job with a couple of dominant early season performances. He had a potential to be one of the truly great Vols ever. He set the school record for all-purpose yards as a redshirt freshman after all, with 1,721 total, including 1,197 on the ground. He also scored 20 touchdowns that year. Cobb had a tougher 1988 due to an ankle injury that kept him out of many games and hobbled him when he did play. Still, he ran for 182 against Duke and 117 against Ole Miss before he got hurt.

Cobb also started to struggle with drugs. By spring ball of 1989, he had failed three drug tests and the team suspended him indefinitely. He went into rehab and evidently got straight for a quick second. At the very least, Tennessee reinstated him before the season started. He didn’t have the job to himself anymore, as Chuck Webb was also a dominant back. But the two of them made for a mean tandem and they combined for a lot of yards during the 89 season. He scored three touchdowns against Duke and then ran for 225 yards in an utterly dominant performance against Auburn. And then….he failed another drug test. He was kicked off the team.

How would the NFL deal with a running back who consistently failed drug tests? This was the just after the Len Bias disaster, among others. The answer was…they didn’t care much. Cobb went to some famous rehab center that many athletes attended. Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Ray Perkins, who had recruited Cobb out of high school when he was at Alabama, really believed in Cobb. And so, despite the problems, he had the Bucs take Cobb with the 30th pick in the 1990 draft, which at that time was early in the second round. As far as I can tell, Cobb did not fail a drug test in the NFL. But he also wasn’t really that good. His 3.2 yards per rush as a rookie was really quite bad given he had 151 carries. This did improve some in his second year, when had 196 carries for 752 yards and 7 touchdowns. But that’s still only 3.8 yards per carry. In 1992, he did run for 1,171 yards but this was on 310 carries, still only 3.8 per. That’s just not going to cut it. After his average carry went down to just 3 yards in 1993, the Bucs gave up on him. The Packers brought him on and he was a somewhat useful part-time back in 1994. In 1995, the Jaguars selected him when the Packers left him unprotected for the expansion draft. He played one game and they released him. He did have a comeback in 1996 with the Jets, where he was on the team the whole year, though only had 25 carries. That was it. In the end, Cobb was a failure in the NFL, a big plodder who didn’t have the requisite speed for NFL defenses, even early in his career.

After his NFL career, Cobb became a scout and worked for the Redskins, Buccaneers, and then 49ers. He did this long enough that he must have been pretty successful at it, though I don’t really know how the scouting system works int the NFL or even if this is really a full-time job. He did win the 2011 NFC Scout of the Year, so that’s impressive. But in 2019, while still working for the Niners, Cobb had a fatal heart attack. Turned out his arteries were pretty clogged. He was only 50 years old.

Reggie Cobb is buried in Lynnhurst Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee.

If you would like this series to visit other people taken in the 1990 draft, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. The great Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy is in Osceola, Arkansas. I don’t really want to think about my Seahawks right now due to the Wilson trade…….Ugh. Anyway, Junior Seau is in Oceanside, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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