Editor’s note: ahead of a huge day of college football action, make sure you check out today’s early Bowl Game Previews, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl Previews, and all of our 2018 Rookie Profiles. Before you know it, it will be NFL draft day!
The elite wide receiver has become synonymous with Clemson University – DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and rookie Mike Williams, to name a few. The next player following in the long line of formidable Clemson wide receivers is junior Deon Cain.
As A Recruit
A five-star recruit out of Florida (0.9906 composite score), Cain mostly played quarterback in high school and was the second-rated wide receiver in the country, according to 247sports. He participated in the 2015 U.S. Army All-American game where he led both teams in receiving with four catches for 81 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown. Cain also had one pass attempt in that game, on which he threw a 54-yard touchdown.
Cain enrolled to Clemson University as a member of the 2015 recruiting class. He received numerous offers from colleges including Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Ohio State among others, but chose to be a Tiger.
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Unlike most true freshmen, Cain played significantly in his first year and had a run of five straight games with a touchdown reception. In addition to that, his 17.1 yards per reception was tops on the team.
Statistics from Sports-Reference.
Despite the return of first round talent Mike Williams during Cain’s sophomore season, Cain continued to be a focal point of the eventual National Champion offense. He saw a bump up from his 49 targets as a freshman to 75 targets in his second year, and his 19.7 yards per reception was one of the highest clips in Clemson football history.
Cain also had one of his best performances on the brightest stage in the National Championship against Alabama. He hauled in five catches for 94 yards, including a 43-yard reception to spark the Tiger offense early.
Statistically down as a junior, Cain’s numbers reflect a player who is focusing on being more than just a deep threat. His 52 receptions on a career high 80 targets are an encouraging sign that he can expand his overall game for the next level.
Standing at 6’1” 190 pounds, Cain is the average size for a prototypical NFL receiver. He was clocked at 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash as a high school senior. Cain put that speed on display when he caught eight touchdown passes of 20 yards or more in 2016.
While his biggest asset may be his speed and his ability to blow by defenders, he also has shown the ability to high-point the football and win contested catches. He has also shown to be an above-average blocker with maximum effort and solid technique.
- Speed – he spent his entire career blowing by defenders for deep passes and can create big plays.
- Can win the jump ball, but needs to work on timing.
- Plays bigger than he really is, and is very physical at the line of scrimmage.
- Can make an immediate impact on an NFL team.
- Didn’t have a very wide route tree in college. This could be concerning as he wasn’t asked to do much outside of deep outs and posts in his first two years.
- Dropped passes – needs to work on his hands. Cain dropped six of 44 catchable passes as a sophomore and five of 54 catchable passes as a junior, according to Pro Football Focus.
- Needs to stay on the field – may have character concerns. He was suspended for three games as a freshman, including the National Semifinal and National Championship, for failing a drug test.
The 2018 wide receiver class is shaping up to be a slightly above-average class. Courtland Sutton and James Washington are leading the pack early. Players like Calvin Ridley, Auden Tate, Equanimeous St. Brown and Cain are all viewed as possible day two draft prospects. Cain doesn’t have exceptional college production, but scouts will fall in love with his speed and his ability to separate.
Cain’s draft stock will rise or fall greatly depending on his performance at the combine and his pro day. If he can show consistent ability to run crisp intermediate and crossing patterns, he will shoot up draft boards as high as a top-three wide receiver. If not, I could see him falling into the WR10-12 range.
What I’m Watching For on Monday and Quick Notes:
- After posting a 5-94-0 line against Alabama last year, how will Cain fare with new quarterback Kelly Bryant?
- How often will Cain face up against projected first round defensive back, Minkah Fitzpatrick?
- Can Cain exploit the middle of the defense on those intermediate and crossing patterns?
- Alabama has the second-ranked defense in total defense, nationally – what can Cain do to help the attack?
- Alabama is also ranked second in defensive pass efficiency – can Cain provide a breakthrough against an outstanding ‘Bama pass defense?
- Clemson is ranked 30th nationally in total offense, while their passing offense is ranked 54th nationally at 244.1 yards per game. Can Cain make a game-changing play to help his offense?
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