Bills 2018 draft watch: Deon Cain, Clemson WR

December 21, 2017

It seems as if Clemson has become a factory for talented receivers, and Deon Cain is the next in line.

While he may not have the size of his former teammate, Mike Williams, he is every bit the big play threat that Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Martavis Bryant were during their time at Clemson. Of the bunch, Bryant may be the best comparison to Cain seeing as how he still has a lot of polish to add and some red flags away from the field. But if he chooses to come out, I would expect him to be in the first round conversation.

The one thing that has been evident since Cain was a true freshman is that when the ball is in his hands, he is dangerous. The former high school quarterback has terrific vision in the open field, and he reacts quickly to what he sees. Those instincts are apparent on some of the screens he has turned into big plays as he weaves his way through traffic.

Outside of that, Cain is still somewhat raw as a receiver. His ability to run routes has improved each year. He has learned to be precise in his movements, but Cain has to sink his hips better in order to get in and out of his breaks quicker.

His ability to catch the ball has improved in some areas as well. While he still hasn’t shown the confidence in his hands to routinely extend them to the ball, Cain has shown an increase in focus which is evident in the amount of contested catches he has made. A receiver’s eyes are just as important as his hands in the process of the catch, and while his hands still need work, Cain’s eyes are an asset.

Many of the areas where Cain still must improve are going to come from repetition. There are opportunities for more contested catches to be made in which his timing or ability to attack the ball are off. Over time, receivers learn to not only time their jumps like a rebounder in basketball but also how to high-point the pass. Cain must still acquire these skills, but I don’t see that being much of an issue. Getting off the press at the line is another area where Cain will get better with work.

He will also have to expand on the route tree he has run at Clemson. The Tigers do run some complex routes, but Cain’s early struggles in this area in his career led the coaching staff to avoid putting him in those patterns. Still, the ability is there to make strides in this area.

There are also some skills that will require a lot of time and effort. His ability to block is practically nonexistent, which brings me to my biggest problem with him. It is one thing to watch his highlights and think that this is a first round talent, but if you watch the full tape, you tend to see a player that has more interest when he is involved. There are routes where he is clearly meant to pull coverage deep in order to open up things underneath, and I don’t see good effort.

As I mentioned, Cain’s tenacity as a blocker also leaves a lot to be desired. Yet when he is getting the ball thrown his way, he is celebrating constantly or pining for flags. The receiver position is one that is made for divas, and it is something teams give a great amount of consideration towards when selecting a player.

Guys like Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr. and Bryant are terrific when things are going in their favor. On the other hand, they can be their team’s biggest nightmare when they aren’t getting involved. They wear their emotions on their sleeves, and the effort and focus suffer.

That is something every team will investigate, weighing the risk and the reward for selecting him. What Cain has to show them is that he knows how to be part of a team, and more importantly that he loves the game. It is easy to have fun when the team is throwing you the ball, but if Cain wants to sustain success in the NFL, effort can’t be optional.

The character flags don’t just limit themselves to the field either. He has been suspended on numerous occasions for failed drug tests, including one prior to the 2015 College Football Playoff when he was sent home. When his team needed him most, he let them down.

The word from the Clemson coaching staff is that those lessons from his freshman year have sunk in, but teams will want to investigate further. Players like this are often some of the most polarizing when it comes to NFL evaluators, and Cain has brought that on himself.

If he has indeed learned from his mistakes, then a team could be getting a star. His raw talent would put him in the first round conversation, but the issues on and off the field are a lot to swallow. Every receiver wants to go through the pre-draft process and work out at their best, but Cain will need to excel in the interviews to truly improve his draft stock.

Compares to: Devante Adams (Green Bay Packers)


–          Good not great size with solid build

–          Silky smooth athlete

–          Great vision and instincts with the ball in his hands

–          Threat from anywhere on the field

–          Best football is ahead of him


–          Numerous character red flags

–          Still very raw as a receiver

–          Effort level can fluctuate

Austin Smith
About Austin Smith

Austin Smith does extensive college scouting work for and has had his work featured on various media outlets. Rumor has it he knows more about college QB's than about members of his own family.

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