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Great Expectations: the Curious Case of Deon Cain

NFL: AUG 03 Colts Training Camp Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Stop! Don’t go any further without reading this: This story isn’t about how I feel about Deon Cain the player or the person. This story is about the probability that he makes the team. I hope everything I’m about to type is wrong. I hope six months from now I’m waving a white flag on Twitter as the Luke Diamonds of the world rip me apart to the delight of people who can’t follow more than 280 characters at a time.

In a recent episode of the Colts Cast (listen to that by clicking here) Chris Blystone asked if I thought Deon Cain would make the Indianapolis Colts 2019 roster. I gave my answer but I didn’t elaborate, naturally Colts Twitter took exception to me calling out the man they’ve anointed as the second coming of Jerry Rice.

See, I thought this was a reasonable response. One man thinks another man is incorrect so they have a conversation, each making an argument based in logic until they either agree to disagree or one of the men has become enlightened to a new line of thought. Admittedly the latter is less likely, but all the same it is possible.

Instead the response I received:

He later deleted that tweet after I responded with this:

Was this my finest moment grammatically? Absolutely not, I have a good excuse but I can’t really say much more than I was distracted by my “real” job and I definitely dropped the ball in that first line. Either way Mr. Diamond, this is your article. Enjoy it.

First I feel like it’s important to review how we got here in the first place. How is it that a guy drafted in the sixth round who then tears his ACL in training camp, becomes a guy that many Colts fans seem to be counting on to contribute heavily this coming season?

Heading into the 2018 draft the Colts receiver corps wasn’t in great shape. T.Y. Hilton was there, obviously, but beyond him there wasn’t much to be excited about. Not much was expected out of late free agent signing Ryan Grant and despite being a solid but not spectacular option nobody seems to care about Chester Rogers (I care, Chester). No one was going to miss Kamar Aiken’s 14 catches. There were probably some Krishawn Hogan faithfuls out there but really no one expected a lot. Outside of those guys, who might we bring back? Quan Bray?

The cupboard was almost bare at the position.

The 2018 NFL draft presented some interesting options at the wide receiver position; D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, Dante Pettis, Christian Kirk, Anthony Miller, James Washington and D.J. Chark were some of the names some Colts fans probably hoped to hear on day two of the draft. Instead Chris Ballard, intent on fixing the offensive and defensive lines, focused his attention away from skill position players until day three.

Once day three rolled around, like every year, there were several players who were falling more than the fans and media ever expected and Deon Cain’s name was very much on that list. Lance Zierlein of wrote that he expected Cain to be a second or third round pick and most other media outlets seemed to rank him similarly.

I’m not here to talk about why Deon Cain fell in the draft, I really don’t care, but there he was available on day three and team after team passed on the seemingly talented pass catcher until our Colts selected him with the 11th pick of the sixth round. Many Colts fans felt that we got a steal with our late day three selection, many in the media, including draft expert Matt Waldman agreed.

Before we knew it the draft had come and gone and it was time for training camp. Training camp is a magical place where players like Griff Whalen, Duron Carter and Caesar Rayford have shined in the past. Yes I know Rayford was a preseason stud, which actually works against Cain, Rayford actually accomplished something on an NFL field.

If I ended the article right here, surely you could understand my position on Cain, but I will soldier on.

So that’s really the basis for my argument, he’s a sixth round pick coming off of a torn ACL who hasn’t proven he can play real football against NFL defenders in a real game and he’s walking into a receiver room returning T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers that has also added a healthy second round receiving prospect in Parris Campbell and went out and signed Devin Funchess to a $10 million deal.

Can he beat out Chester Rogers for the WR4 spot? Sure, he could. As of today, as of right now, Deon Cain hasn’t played a down of NFL football and Chester Rogers caught nearly three-fourths of his targets in 2018. So sure, Deon Cain could beat him out—technically I could be coaching division 1 college football a year from now. From where I stand neither seems very likely.

So what about the fifth wide receiver spot? This is assuming they keep five. If memory serves me, they kept five on the roster most of the 2018 season, though they dealt with a lot of injuries. It will be interesting to see what they plan to do with Nyhiem Hines and the group of pass catching tight ends they have assembled, but I do believe five receivers is the most likely scenario. So who’s going to beat Deon Cain out for the WR5 position? I have no idea, but I know for sure, Deon Cain is going to be competing against every guy who walks in the building looking to play wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.

All of this considered I truly believe Cain’s probability of making the 2019 Indianapolis Colts 53 man roster is less than 40%, and frankly I think I’m being generous.

Maybe that’s not enough, maybe you believe Deon Cain’s college tape was so special that he will be head and shoulders above every undrafted rookie free agent who shows up to camp (that we also haven’t seen play NFL football). Well then let’s take a look at all 98 receivers who have been drafted in the 6th round in the past 20 years. Here’s the list of players who missed their rookie year and went on to play NFL football:

  • Aldrick Robinson. Drafted in 2011, played his first down in 2012. Played for the team that drafted him for two years before being cut. 30 catches for the team that drafted him.
  • Trindon Holliday. Drafted in 2010, played his first down in 2011. Didn’t catch a pass until 2012 with his second team. Is only technically a wide receiver. Never caught a pass for the team that drafted him.
  • Corey Fuller. Drafted in 2013, played his first down in 2014. Played his last down in 2015. Spent his rookie year on the practice squad, not injured. 18 career catches.
  • Cobi Hamilton. Drafted in 2013, played his first down in 2014. Didn’t log a stat until 2016. Spend the majority of his career on the practice squad, didn’t miss time due to injury. Never caught a pass for the team that drafted him.
  • Jordan Kent. Drafted in 2007, played his first down in 2008. Logged his first and only catch (for five yards) in 2009.
  • Justin Brown. Drafted in 2013, played first down in 2014. Unclear why he didn’t play in 2013, he signed his four year rookie deal, he wasn’t cut nor was he placed in IR. According to the transaction records on pro-football-reference it seems that Brown was a healthy scratch for all 16 games in 2013. 12 career catches.
  • Jaymar Johnson. Drafted in 2008, played his first down in 2009. Was only technically a receiver as his main duty was as a kick returner. Caught one pass for his career.
  • Paul Hubbard Jr.. Drafted in 2008, played his first down in 2010 for a team other than the team that drafted him. Never played football for the team that selected him. One reception for 8 yards for his career.
  • Mike Hass. Drafted in 2006, played his first down in 2007 for a team other than the team that drafted him. Never played football for the team that selected him. Never logged a stat.

If we round up 34% of all sixth round rookie wide receivers don’t play their rookie year. 26% of that 34% (also known as the nine guys I listed above) went on to play NFL football, 56% of that 26% (now down to five guys) ever caught a pass for the team that drafted them and 60% of those guys (three guys) logged more than one career catch. None of them played three or more seasons with the team that drafted them.

What does this have to do with Deon Cain? Absolutely nothing. Deon Cain isn’t Justin Brown or Jordan Kent or Mike Hass. He could make the team, he could catch more than a handful of passes and he could play for the Colts for more than the next year and a half but the past 20 years shows us he has roughly a 9% chance to make the squad. Given what we know about the Colts roster and the physical abilities that Cain put on tape in college and I think the number is more like 35% he makes the team.

With that said, injuries can change everything if any of the receivers pull a hamstring during the preseason the chance that Cain makes the initial 53, is probably really good, but even if he is on the roster in Week 1 the chance that he’s still on the roster in December is really bad.

This isn’t about how I feel about Deon Cain the player or the person, this is about probability that he makes the team, given all of the circumstances that surround him. He has a chance to make the team but the odds are so stacked against him and no one is acknowledging it.

Colts fans, for some reason have fallen head over heels for this guy in the same way they fell for Duron Carter and there are plenty of parallels to draw. Carter caught 9 passes for 126 yards during the 2015 preseason, which to this point makes Carter the far more accomplished professional football player.

So yeah, Mr. Diamond, I agree you need to hang on to all of the brain cells you have left, because as of today you’re believing in fairy tales.

If somehow Deon Cain finds this article, man, print it off, hang it in your locker, use it, make the team, put up big numbers and help the Colts win a lot of games. It probably doesn’t seem like it, but I’m pulling for every guy wearing a horseshoe, especially the underdogs.