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Deon Cain Considered a Late-round Pick Who Exceeds Expectations in 2018

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Will Colts sixth-round draft pick Deon Cain outplay his sixth-round draft status in 2018?

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein thinks that Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Deon Cain is among seven late-round draft picks who could exceed expectations in 2018.

Deon Cain, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Drafted: Round 6, No. 185 overall out of Clemson.

Analysis: A receiver with Cain’s size (6-2, 202), speed (4.43-second 40-yard dash), and pedigree is always a welcome sight for quarterbacks. His draft stock was hampered by concerns about his maturity and drops. His physical tools and ability to uncover on all three levels of the field should not be undersold, though. Cain has an opportunity to impress in camp and find catches as a rookie despite being a sixth-round pick.

Cain was Zierlein’s fourth-ranked wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, only behind Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton and D.J. Moore. Zierlein gave Cain a 5.86 grade (meaning he has a chance to become an NFL starter) and pegged him going between Rounds 2-3. Zierlein also compared Cain to former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, who was among the best in the league during his prime.

Zierlein gave Cain this summary in his pre-draft evaluation:

Cain is a classic Clemson receiver with a good combination of size and speed and an underappreciated feel for the position. Cain’s routes are smooth, but also show an understanding of coverage. Cain has the pure speed to attack over the top, but he should be a competitive option on all three levels. His drops are more a function of concentration than ability, but it needs to be improved. Cain has the chance to become a very good NFL starter but is better suited to handle the WR2 rather than a role as the alpha target.

It took me a little while to warm up to Cain before the draft, but I got there. When I watched his tape from both 2016 and 2017, I saw a blend of two different skill sets that should combine to equal one very good, well-rounded receiver. In 2016 while playing with quarterback Deshaun Watson, Cain put his speed on display often by stretching defenses and making plays downfield.

However, when Watson went on to the NFL, first-year starting junior Kelly Bryant took the reins in 2017. Cain’s productivity rose, but not to the level that was expected. With first-round pick Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett also leaving for the NFL, Cain took over as the top weapon in the passing game. However, Cain was much more effective closer to the sticks and became more of a possession receiver. In that time, he got better as a route runner and at getting separation other than with pure speed on go routes.

Zierlein is right when he says that Cain can exceed expectations in 2018. Cain has traits that translate immediately to the NFL, as route running and separation are paramount in importance next to the ability to catch the ball. That, by the way, is the main thing Cain needs to work on. He had a handful of concentration drops in his time at Clemson. Though they’re more attributed to, again concentration, that is still something that he needs to get right in his head. See the ball, secure the ball, and then you can make your moves.

The Colts are a young, rebuilding team who have set a premium on youth. They do have TY Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers, but Cain should be given an opportunity to compete for a greater role if he’s earning it in practice. This team actually wants its best players to play, believe it or not.

Also making Zierlein’s list: