New Orleans Saints restricted free agent wide receiver Willie Snead was tendered a contract offer by the Baltimore Ravens late last week that the Saints are not likely to match. New Orleans had already re-signed Brandon Coleman, and signed Bears restricted free agent Cameron Meredith to go along with productive veteran Ted Ginn and Pro Bowler Michael Thomas. The Saints wideouts, outside of the superstar Thomas and Ginn, underachieved in 2017, making this a team need entering the offseason. The Clemson Tigers have recently produced some productive pro wideouts. Mike Williams (2017), Sammy Watkins (2015), and DeAndre Hopkins (2014) were all first round draft picks from a program that has been in the N.C.A.A. playoffs in each of the last three years. Today's draft profile takes a look at the latest talented receiver from this ACC powerhouse.
Deon Cain, WR (Clemson)
Cain attended Tampa Bay Technical High School, where he was a five star recruit, but primarily as a dual-threat quarterback. He was switched to receiver at Clemson, where he was a key contributor to the Tigers' run to the 2015 national championship game. Cain missed the team's semifinal win and title game loss to Alabama due to a failed drug test, and the resulting suspension extended into the following spring. Cain decided to forego a transfer, and instead developed into a team leader over the next two seasons. He totalled 1,458 yards receiving on 96 receptions in those two years, catching 15 touchdown passes, and starring in the Tigers national championship rematch victory against Alabama to conclude the '16 season. After declaring for the draft following his junior season, Cain had a solid performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in March. His 4.43 40-yd. dash, 11.78 60-yd shuttle, and 6.71 3-cone drill times all ranked within the top 10 performances of participating wideouts.
Cain has one of the better size/speed combinations of any receiver in the draft. He is a naturally fluid athlete, with instant acceleration and good deep speed. He explodes out of his breaks, and runs with long smooth strides, allowing him to separate from defenders and disguise routes effectively. Cain has good body control along the sideline, and shifts into an extra gear to gain separation and track down the deep ball. He is a physical receiver that fights for the ball in traffic, and has quick hands to snatch the ball out of the air and quickly secure it into his body. Cain is an extremely dangerous and elusive open field runner. He has a decisive turn upfield with the ball, can sense opposing tacklers well, and has the athleticism to find a crease and explode for a big play as well as the physicality to fight through tackles. He needs to develop his route tree better, and sometimes struggles to gain separation on underneath routes against press coverage, but does have a good understanding of the position to develop a more well-rounded game. Cain's production dipped a bit during his final year at Clemson, but the Tigers were breaking in a new quarterback after the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Deshaun Watson. Cain's suspension during the most important part of Clemson's season in 2015 could be a red flag to some. He showed good maturity through the situation, keeping in touch with teammates and coaches through his suspension, and emerged as a team leader upon his return.
Nfl.com comparison: Roddy White (Falcons, retired)
Cain is projected to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round later this week. NFL Network's Mike Mayock has compared Cain's skills to former Saint and current Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. A closer look will reveal that Cain seems to have a more well-rounded skillset than the former New Orleans deep threat. Deon Cain will be an immediate deep threat and dangerous weapon on wide receiver screens and short patterns for the team that drafts him. His understanding of the position should allow him to develop into an effective intermediate weapon quickly as well, enabling him to be an ideal number two receiver, and perhaps even a top NFL wideout.