2018 Rookie Profile: Deon Cain, WR Clemson

Dan Sainio

The 2018 wide receiver class is deep, but there isn’t much for top-end talent. There is a large tier of about 10-12 players who have similar pre-draft value. With WR being relatively deep in the NFL and in the fantasy landscape, most of them project as NFL WR2s. Deon Cain is definitely in that mix and could end up being a steal in your rookie drafts.

Let’s take a look at why…

The Stats

screen shot 2018 03 31 at 11.07.51

Statistics from sports-reference.com

He didn’t have a true “breakout” season, but Cain established himself early as a true freshman at ‘WR University’. In a passing offense led by Deshaun Watson, Cain acted as the WR3 behind Artavis Scott and Charone Peake. Early on, you could see his nag for getting behind defenders with ease, and that shows in his 17.1 yards per catch. When Clemson needed a splash play, they seemed quite comfortable going to Cain.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

His sophomore season took another step forward, as Watson’s trust in him didn’t fade. He posted a solid 38/724/9 season, averaging 19.1 yards per catch. That YPC number was good enough for top 20 in the nation, which is impressive in its own right. Unfortunately, Clemson (and Watson) preferred to spread the ball around quite a bit, while also leaning on Mike Williams, so we didn’t get to see what Cain could with some real volume and an NFL QB.

As a junior, in his final season, we got to see a little bit more volume. But Kelly Bryant is a far cry from Deshaun Watson, and the offense looked very different. Finishing with another 700-yard season was great, but the explosive plays were limited and that shows even as we box score scout. Part of this was developing his route tree, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

The Film

Yes, this is just a highlight reel, but it shows off what Cain does best. He is a smooth strider and has that second gear to get behind the defender and finish strong to the end zone. While this is probably his strongest attribute, it certainly doesn’t define him. We also get to see his ability to go up and make plays on 50/50 balls. Using his well above average hands, Cain consistently plucks at the high point and tucks on his way down with ease. Very rarely will you see him body-catch anything, and that’s another reason I love watching him play.

When he wants to (we’ll get to that in a bit), Cain can easily separate from press coverage by simply using his body leverage, as well as win battles with his hands. He’s very willing, and capable, to fight for position on his routes and give himself the upper hand. Once he gets that position, he is scary after making the catch. Even if he’s not behind the defender, he’s plenty agile and elusive to make defenders miss.

All prospects have negatives in their game, and Cain certainly isn’t an exception. Most of his flaws or weak points come from laziness. He isn’t always explosive off of the line, and that can carry into his routes as well. It’s almost as if when his number isn’t called, he goes at his route half-heartedly. By simply committing fully to each snap, those flaws can diminish. He will, however, need to work on the rest of the route tree. We know he has the go route down, as well as the underneath stuff. Cain is also strong on dig routes, but most others seem rounded off or just plain sloppy. Again, though, some of that can be fixed by simply running routes at 100%.


This (via Mock Draftable) certainly isn’t the prettiest spider chart I’ve ever seen, but there are some things to like. Even with his solid size, the most impressive measurable here is his wingspan. It’s always nice to see a player use his strengths on the field, and back it up with the measurables. Cain fully uses his almost 80-inch wingspan when going up for 50/50 balls, as well as using his long arms to help with separation.

His speed is obvious on the field, and that translates nicely here as well with a solid 4.43 40 time. Again, it’s great to see players use their gifts to excel on the field. Cain’s speed definitely is not wasted. Aside from the speed, he also has great agility and quickness as shown by his strong three-cone performance. The trick now is just to get him to use it consistently in his routes, because we know he can do it once he has the ball in his hands.

The disappointing numbers here are in his shuttles and jumps. Oh, and apparently he has baby hands even though it doesn’t show on tape as a weakness. Obviously, we don’t have an explosive athlete in and out of breaks. These can be improved by working on his footwork, but Cain just isn’t the guy that’s going to blow you away off of the line.

Dynasty Value

In 2015 and 2016, Cain was seen as a higher-end devy asset. The assumption was that his career arc wouldn’t plateau, but losing Watson hurt that a lot and brought his value back to earth. In the March rookie ADP, Cain is currently coming off of the board at 31 overall and is the WR11. He still falls inside of the 12-receiver tier I talked about earlier, but this seems low. I fully expect him to go ahead of Auden Tate, Anthony Miller, and even Michael Gallup once we are able to see landing spots and draft capital. This will put him in the mid to late second round in rookie drafts, and that seems like the sweet spot for the underrated Cain.


There is plenty to like about Deon Cain, and I expect him to be fantasy-relevant at the next level. He’ll need an NFL team that knows how to use his strengths, and is willing to help him develop the things he struggles with, however obvious that seems. Either way, don’t sleep on Deon Cain. If you have a mid-second round rookie pick, and none of “your” guys fall to you, take a chance on him.