Deon Cain is earning praise in mini-camp and OTAs as the favorite to earn the No. 3 role in the Indianapolis offense. Matt Waldman shares his analysis of Cain from the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio pre-draft publication — the most in-depth analysis of rookie skill prospects available.
Based solely on talent, Cain is my No. 4 receiver in this draft class:
4. Deon Cain, Clemson (6-2, 202)
Depth of Talent Score: 86.15 = Starter: Capable of a larger role and learning on the go.
Cain is another prospect who won’t be this high on most boards because of production and off-field concerns. Cain had failed a drug test and had some disciplinary issues early in his college career while he was stuck in a rotation behind starter Mike Williams. When he straightened up his act and earned the starting job this year, Deshaun Watson was gone
and there was a significant drop in quarterback production.
Despite these factors, Cain is one of the stronger talents in this receiver class and another potential value. His calling cards are speed, skill after the catch, and winning the ball in the air.
Cain can defeat press coverage with his rocker step, stutter, or three-step release. He knows when to vary the pace of these footwork releases, and he’ll pair these moves with hook-and-swim or a chop.
Although Cain’s chop is often effective, it can improve. It’s not violent enough against physical corners. He has the strength and quickness to up the intensity of the move and must do so to be successful in the NFL.
Despite this issue, Cain doesn’t wilt against physical play. He’s comfortable with hand fighting after the break as he’s tracking the ball. This type of contact doesn’t break Cain’s concentration, and he’ll often use his back arm to frame/maintain separation just before the ball arrives overhead.
If opponents don’t get their hands on Cain, he has enough speed to run by them. Although his metric profile won’t wow anyone, he’s quick in and out of breaks. Cain keeps his pads down into the break as he reaches the top of his stem and gets his head around fast to locate the ball. The only place where his pads come up a little early is in shorter routes with breaks to the inside.
Cain also works back to the ball and he’s adept at setting up and reaching the soft spot of Cover 2 and Cover 2 zones. His route tree isn’t as complete as many of the other top prospects in this class, but he’s adept at running the routes that he knows.
For someone projecting development, it’s a good sign that a player excels at what he knows. With the exception of the other issues already mentioned, Cain’s releases and routes are headed in the right direction.
Despite a 20-shuttle time that’s on the border of the RSP’s Starter and Committee tiers, Cain had a star-caliber Three-Cone time and his quickness shows up early his routes. His sudden change of direction shows up on his tape and he gets on top of opponents early in his routes.
Cain catches the ball easily. He tracks the ball easily with his back to the quarterback. When he highpoints the ball he displays a quick snatch and retraction of the ball with late hands that won’t tip off his opponent.
The back-shoulder fade is one of Cain’s more promising routes, and I think he’ll see a steadier diet of these in the NFL. He can turn a little early on the break but his ability to sell the deeper routes combined with his boundary awareness and execution makes this a route he’ll likely master soon. Whether it’s a back-shoulder fade, a dime over his head near the end line or an acrobatic play in a tight spot, Cain’s boundary work is effortless.
Contact doesn’t faze him while he’s running down the target and he’s adept at extending for the ball on low throws. Like Dante Pettis, he has the flexibility to extend on the run and catch the ball low and away with his fingertips.
Like the rest of the players profiled in these first two tiers, Cain is a dangerous runner after the catch. He’s a speedy, patient runner with a sudden change of direction. This makes Cain an excellent target on screen passes and crossing routes. He can cut back at full speed and take away the pursuit angles of defensive backs. Cain’s feel for backside pursuit is a testament to his vision. He’ll make cuts in succession to work past defenders who appear to be on the periphery of his sightlines.
When necessary, Cain can reverse field and has the speed to work to the opposite side. He wields an accurate, well-leveraged stiff-arm, and he can jump cut, dip, or stop-start his way past pursuit.
As he’s working through the defense, Cain switches the ball to his non-pursuit arm and carries high and tight—even as he’s changing direction. A lot of receivers give slack at the elbow when they’re changing direction as they weave through traffic.
Cain is a promising blocker. When he earns position on a safety, he gets his hands into the body and turns the opponent away from the path of the ball carrier. He can, though, be late to diagnose downhill angles of defenders and miss blocks.
If the Packers have Aaron Rodgers in their plans for the next 3-5 years, Cain would develop into an excellent fit in the Green Bay offense as a player to develop behind Davante Adams. He’s comfortable with the physical play that comes with tight-window targets, he wins in the open field, and he’s a vertical threat with strong boundary skill.
If Cain falls past the fourth round on draft day, it will be less about skill and more about his past behavior and concerns about his maturation. Martavis Bryant’s behavior in college generated concerns. Despite some compelling stories that indicated he had moved beyond his bad behavior, he was still viewed as a work in progress.
While sharing the same school background, same position, and disciplinary concerns remember that Cain and Bryant are individuals with their own specific stories.
Regardless of draft stock, Cain has starter talent and, for the reasons stated above, he reminds me of Adams. Cain is taller, has better deep speed and change of direction quickness. Adams is 10 pounds heavier, a better leaper, and has better acceleration.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: If Cain is drafted in the third round or higher, he’ll earn a bump in fantasy leagues. If he’s a late second or third-day selection, he’ll be a strong value play for fantasy owners taking running backs or quarterbacks in the first 2-3 rounds.
In leagues selecting rookies before the NFL Draft, I expect Cain to be available at the 3-4 turn, perhaps the 4-5 turn in smaller leagues. If you’re taking the contrarian approach to rookie drafts this year and bypassing running backs—something that will require a fair bit of guts considering that it’s potentially a historic RB class—you could wind up with several of Tier I and Tier II RSP WR talents. I’m not endorsing that strategy, but you’re the master of your destiny
For analysis of skill players, get the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, now available for pre-order. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each.