Draft season is in full swing, as scouts and teams look to the future. Inside The Pylon profiled some prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and will bring our in-depth, high-quality approach to even more player profiles this season. Here is the 2016 draft profile Jeremy Cash, Duke’s hybrid safety/linebacker.
Duke Blue Devils safety/linebacker Jeremy Cash, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, is a test case for the modern idea of the safety. In recent years NFL teams have used Deone Bucannon, Jaquiski Tartt, Mark Barron, and Patrick Chung in linebacker-type roles that rarely, if ever, ask them to patrol deep zones. More often working as a third safety, these players are paired with two more traditional safeties. They provide a run-stuffing thump in the box with the coverage skills required to solve the matchup problems modern tight ends present.
On paper, Cash fits this mold:a 6’1”, 210-pound bruiser who almost exclusively lined up within eight yards on the line of scrimmage. After reviewing the film, his traits reveal a player in need of a scheme fit, because it is unclear if his skill set can translate to more of a traditional safety position.
What He Does Well
Few defensive schemes ask their secondary to blitz frequently, but Cash excels, given his timing and quickness. In his linebacker-type role Cash often shoots gaps at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the offense, on both passing and running plays. Cash’s anticipation often makes him the first player reacting at the snap, putting him in the gap before blockers can react. He accelerates downhill very quickly, going from stationary to top speed in a short period of time. This acceleration helps him on designed blitzes, as well as delayed or green dog blitzes, and when keying and penetrating on running plays:
Like most defensive backs, Cash doesn’t have an advanced pass-rushing repertoire and his frame doesn’t pose much of a challenge in pass protection. When he times the snap and shoots a gap unblocked, Cash is disruptive; when his rush is picked up, offenses block him without much difficulty.
Run Defense / Tackling
Cash is an outstanding tackler, dragging ball carriers down with force and technique. When he gets his hands on a running back or receiver, that player almost never breaks free. He can force fumbles with active use of his hands and solid technique. He keys and recognizes quickly in the running game, with few false steps. For the most part, Cash takes efficient routes to the ball, even from long distances. He can avoid cut blocks and congestion to get to the ball carrier:
At times, Cash tries to dart inside to avoid blocks and loses outside contain. He moves well downhill but his change-of-direction is less impressive and quick players can elude him in the open field.
Areas to Improve
It is difficult to evaluate Cash’s coverage abilities as a conventional safety. In cut-ups of five games I watched, he lined up as a deep safety only once. He played catch man technique fairly often, attempting to hit the receiver downfield to disrupt his route, but he struggled with this difficult task. He is too often high in the jam, failing to deliver adequate power, and transitioning slowly from jamming to running with the receiver:
Cash looked better in zone coverage, where his instincts and downhill explosiveness serve him well. I only saw one play where he played press man, but he disrupted the receiver at the line of scrimmage, turned and ran downfield, and made an athletic interception. That’s not a large enough sample to prove Cash can effectively play that technique on a regular basis, but press might allow him to use his physicality and snap anticipation in defending the passing game.
Cash was not a traditional safety at Duke, and while his college role is not necessarily all he can do, he will be a project in a scheme that asks him to play deep zones on a regular basis. Paired with a conventional free safety and able to spend most of his time in the box, he will make an easier transition to the pro game. Finding a 3-4 team or one that blitzes often with defensive backs would most often make use of Cash’s pass rush abilities.
Scheme fit is important for every draftee, but for a player with an unusual skill set like Cash it is vital. Barron’s career is a telling example ‒ the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up on the 2012 seventh-overall pick midway through his third season, trading him for just fourth- and sixth- round picks. Barron has experienced a career resurgence for the St. Louis Rams in a linebacker-type role as a third safety. If Cash, like Barron in Tampa Bay, winds up forced to do things that don’t fit his experience or skill set, he’ll have a steeper learning curve and likely an unsuccessful one. But if Cash falls into a situation where his drafting team looks at what he can do, he has a number of NFL-caliber attributes that can help a team.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
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