Currently, your fantasy teams are littered with Clemson wide receivers, with the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown, Charone Peake, Adam Humphries, and soon to be Mike Williams plying their trade in the NFL. In another year we will be adding another name to this list, Deon Cain. Cain has been a key factor in Clemson’s back to back National Title Game appearances as a true freshman and sophomore. This coming season Cain should finally be the top target for the Tigers after the departure of many 2016’s top targets.
Listed at 6’1” 210 ( he looks closer to 190), Cain was the number 1 rated wide receiver by 247sports.com and the 14th overall player in the 2015 class coming out of Tampa Bay Tech in Tampa, Florida. Cain predominantly played quarterback at Tampa Bay Tech, rushing for over 1,600+ for his last three seasons in high school.
Strengths: Cain’s ability to come in and be a key factor during his first two years on campus on a National Title contending team is certainly impressive. Cain was able to rack up 582 yards with a 17.1 YPR and 5 touchdowns as a true freshman for Clemson. In his sophomore season, he improved upon his impressive freshman campaign totaling 724 yards 19.1 YPR and 9 touchdowns. Cain was able to produce these numbers while competing with the likes of Mike Williams Artavis Scott, and Jordan Leggett for targets in the Clemson offense.
One of Cain’s biggest strengths is his big play ability. Through two seasons he’s averaging over 18 yards per receptions along with a scoring a touchdown on 19% of his career catches. This big play ability was on display this past season against Louisville. During this a prime time matchup between two top 5 teams in Death Valley, Cain produced 4 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cain scored from 33 & 37 yards out. On both plays, Cain was able to use his speed to separate from his defender deep and ended up with wide open touchdown catches. On his second score, he had to adjust to a slightly off-target pass and made a sliding hands catch before pulling it into his body to secure the ball.
He showed his ability to adjust to the ball in the air again in the 2016 matchup against Florida State making another sliding catch. Cain is able to use his speed to create separation between himself and the defender; he’s then able to run under the ball and make an adjustment to haul in the pass. When the ball is in the air Cain appears to have an extra gear he’s able to shift into that enables him to get to the ball. Defensive backs have a difficult time sticking with Cain in one-on-one situations on the outside.
Another positive to his game is his ability to make contested catches with a defender on his hip. This trait showed up his freshman year with making a number of deep catches with a defender draped on him. Cain is able to use his speed to get just enough separation from his defender to give his quarterback a lane to make the completion. He’s able to defeat the defender in a number of ways with the ball in the air. He’s shown an ability to use a late burst to leave the defender in a position to not be able to make a play on the ball allowing Cain to make the reception. On other occasions, Cain is able to extend his arm with the ball in the air to keep the defender out of position from making a play. Which allows himself to have just enough room to make the catch.
Weakness: Cain has one major red flag on his resume. Nearing the end of his freshman season, he was suspended for the Semi-Final and the National Title game. Cain was sent home two days before the Semi-Final game vs. Oklahoma with a violation of team rules explanation and was finally reinstated to the team five months later. Anytime a player is suspended right before the two biggest games of the year this should be a red flag. By all accounts since this situation, Cain has stayed out of trouble and kept his nose clean. We all can hope that Cain has learned from this situation and has been able to grow to stay out of trouble moving forward.
Another concern, during his sophomore season Cain only caught 38 passes in 15 games played. As stated above he was competing for targets with a couple top prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft, but you still would like to see him haul in more than 2.5 passes per game during the season. When you take into account that Cain was only on the field for approximately 40% of the Clemson’s offensive snaps his 38 receptions isn’t all that low of a number. In the upcoming 2017 season Cain should be a focal part of the Tigers offensive attack, and I’d expect his market share to increase substantially.
In Cain’s limited playing time (only credited with one start in 26 game appearances and only 449 snaps played this season) he hasn’t run a very diverse route tree. When Cain is in the game, he’s in for one reason, and that’s to use his speed to go deep. In the games that I reviewed Cain mainly is in the game to run go routes and screens. With more playing time I would expect him to be able to show more diverse route running.
Conclusion: In limited exposure, Cain has made a big impact for the Tigers with his big play ability. Of his 72 career receptions, 26 have gone for 20+ yards. With the departure of Clemson’s top three targets from last season, Cain is in a prime spot to have a major breakout season in 2017. His 40% snap count should dramatically rise this coming year. With increased snaps and targets this should lead to Cain being in consideration for one of the top draft-eligible wide receiver spots in 2018. With a big Junior season, Cain has the potential to be a top 5 rookie pick in 2018 drafts.