New Patriots RB Travaris Cadet: Wait, Who?

New England Patriots RB Travaris Cadet becomes the latest depth addition to the backfield. Brian Filipiak examines how the fourth-year pro might help fill the void left behind by departed pass-catching back Shane Vereen.

After the New Orleans Saints non-tendered Travaris Cadet, making him a restricted free agent, New England signed the running back in March. A jack of all trades, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cadet had been picked up by the Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2012 following a well-travelled collegiate career. He started at the University of Toledo, had a brief layover at Pearl River Community College, and finally finished at Appalachian State. While a member of the Mountaineers, the versatile Cadet played quarterback and wide receiver before eventually settling in at running back on a full-time basis. Cadet also served as the team’s primary punt and kick returner and easily led the squad in all-purpose yards in both 2010 and 2011. After registering only 44 offensive snaps over his first two years with the Saints, the now-26-year-old Cadet received a significant boost in playing time this past season due to injuries in the New Orleans backfield. He appeared in 15 games, including one start, while also contributing on special teams as a kick returner.

Quality Over Quantity

Most of Cadet’s action came on throwing downs: 185 of his 209 snaps in 2014 resulted in running a route ‒ not the football. Cadet only ran the ball 10 times in all, or about once for every 18 snaps in route. For comparison, Shane Vereen saw about five pass plays for every rush attempt last season for the Patriots. Despite a league-wide ranking of 35th in total snaps in route, Cadet finished 21st in receiving yards and 17th in receptions among running backs last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The running back caught 38 of 43 targets ‒ with one drop and one interception ‒ the fifth-highest catch success rate (88.4%) at the position among those with at least 40 opportunities. He also drew one pass interference penalty.

Receiver Routes

Playing in one of the more complex offensive schemes around the league, Cadet produced when called on by head coach Sean Payton. Predominantly a pass-catching back in Payton’s hybrid West Coast offense, which relies heavily on underneath throws, the Saints used Cadet out of multiple formations and alignments ‒ both out of the backfield and as a receiver split wide or in the slot. Cadet saw most of his action when New Orleans went up-tempo with their no-huddle offense and/or in two- and four- minute situations. Given Cadet’s stint as a wide receiver during his time at Appalachian State, it’s no surprise that the running back demonstrated an ability to run nearly the entire wide receiver route tree for the Saints. From working the flat, to finding the soft spot over the intermediate zone, and even operating deep down field on occasion, Cadet served as more than just a screen pass catcher and check-down option for quarterback Drew Brees.

Wheel Route / Out-and-Up

In the empty shotgun set captured below, Cadet is aligned in the weak-side slot and runs an out-and-up (or wheel) route:

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Off the snap, Cadet gains a depth of about six yards before cutting sharply to the sideline, followed by an immediate turn upfield. Showing great acceleration through his break, the running back creates separation from the nearest zone defender and makes a nice adjustment on the underthrown pass to haul in the catch.

Working The Seam

On the next play, Cadet again lines up in the slot as part of a tight trips formation. Watch as he exploits the seam on the vertical route:

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Cadet stems his release just outside the hash mark in order to split two of the deep-third defenders in the Cover 3 scheme. The receiver makes another solid adjustment on the ball thrown slightly behind him, securing the long connection on the seam route.

Out Routes

Cadet demonstrated toe-tap ability when working the sideline, as well as good situational awareness on the out routes below:

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Split out wide on the first play, Cadet snags the pass near the sideline, getting both feet down in bounds while displaying excellent body control and precise route running. On the second play, Cadet ‒ operating from the weak-side slot ‒ runs a quick out toward the flat, grabbing the pass from Brees without breaking stride and astutely heading for the first down marker.

Drag/Crossing Routes

Initially in the backfield on this play, Cadet motions into the slot as part of a stacked receiver alignment moments before the snap:

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Reminiscent of how the Patriots often used Vereen  – particularly in Super Bowl XLIX – Cadet crosses the formation on the drag route underneath the man coverage. Wide open following a likely misplay by the middle linebacker, the running back exhibits good balance after snaring the pass against his back shoulder, regaining body control and quickly turning upfield to pick up an easy first down.

Curl/Comeback Routes

Cadet continually demonstrated route flexibility and an aptitude to hang onto contested completions such as on the three pass plays below:

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In the first clip, the split-out Cadet nails the curl route with a well-timed break on the pass from Brees. On the next play, again split wide atop the formation, Cadet runs a comeback route near the sideline, diving down to the ground to scoop up the low throw. In the final sequence, the running back ‒ from a tight slot alignment ‒ picks up the first down on a perfectly executed mini-curl (or snag) route as he finds the soft spot in the zone coverage, keeping the nearest defender on his outside hip, and widening out to increase his catch radius.

Screen Game

A majority of Cadet’s receptions in 2014 occurred on swing passes to the flat and designed screen plays out of multiple alignments such as in the video shown below:

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Cadet exercises good vision and patience on both slip screens out of the backfield and tunnel screens when split out wide. The running back allows blocks to develop and typically causes the first defender to whiff on a tackle by shifting into second gear. He also moves well prior to receiving the ball, clearing himself for the QB to deliver a clean pass while maintaining speed and balance when abruptly changing direction.

Whip Routes

But among all of Cadet’s routes and receptions, perhaps none were better than the two for touchdowns shown below:

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Similar to the route by Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman on the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX, the running back successfully executes a whip route in the red zone for a score on two separate occasions. The second play in particular shows off Cadet’s route-running chops. By sinking his hips to sell the in cut or mini-curl, Cadet forces the mismatched linebacker to commit. Off the plant, the RB then swiftly pivots back and accelerates through his break toward the pylon for the touchdown. Overall, Cadet is not your average route runner from the running back position. Recapturing his wide receiver days at Appalachian State, Cadet appears comfortable working out of multiple splits and alignments, demonstrating the ability to execute intricate patterns as well as make adjustments on passes that fail to hit him squarely in the numbers.

Running The Rock

While there is a decent sample size of Cadet’s route running and receiving skills, the halfback only has 11 career rushes and marginal success (3.4 average per carry) on those attempts. Like rare (but less grainy) footage of Sasquatch, we discovered a couple of Cadet’s scarce NFL carries:

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Much as he does on screen plays in open space, Cadet relies on a one-cut, downhill approach instead of shiftiness or electrifying moves as a ball carrier. At least in the plays above, the running back displays promising vision on both the outside zone run and gap plays. He also flashes a good burst when hitting the hole, keeping his pad level low and his legs moving. Not built like a prototypical scatback, Cadet uses his size well and doesn’t shy away from contact. Though he struggles to keep his feet after taking a hit in the plays above, Cadet finishes his runs with authority and manages to fall forward.

Protecting The QB

In addition to his infrequent use on run plays, Cadet also has limited experience in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, the running back has only eight pass blocking opportunities out of 253 career snaps (including playoffs). We tracked down a few of those scattered occurrences in the below cutup:

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While Cadet has room for improvement in his blocking technique, he appears to have a strong understanding of the protection schemes highlighted above. Exhibiting the necessary awareness, athleticism and willingness to pick up pass rushers from multiple angles and directions, the running back acquitted himself admirably on his handful of chances in pass protection and on blitz pick-ups. The other element of pass protection for a back involves recognizing how long to stay in pass protection and when to release for a check-down pass, which can also help the QB avoid a hit and potential sack. Often a difficult decision-making process to assess, Cadet provided a good example of a proper block-and-release route on the play below:

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First checking for the blitz off the perimeter, Cadet shuffles down the line of scrimmage from right to left tackle. Not releasing as an outlet receiver just yet, the running back remains patient as he determines the threat of a possible delayed blitz from a linebacker and/or if a nearby defensive lineman requires a chip block to delay penetration into the backfield. Once he makes this read, Cadet flares out to the flat, making himself available for a dump off pass resulting in a short gain. Plays like these seem insignificant on the surface, but, if executed haphazardly, they can make the difference between 2nd and 6 or a sack.

Ball Security

Despite having only 108 touches in his NFL career, Cadet has put the ball on the ground three times ‒ once as a kick returner. He also has five fumbles in 12 preseason games according to his gamelog pages.

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Cadet’s struggles stretch back to his collegiate days. Scouring through box scores reveals the former Mountaineer fumbled 10 times (twice as a kick/punt returner and eight as a rusher out of 336 carries) over three seasons at Appalachian State. His ball security will be an important ‒ and possibly make or break ‒ area to scrutinize in training camp and exhibition games.

Heavy Competition

Cadet offers an intriguing set of skills that the team briefly lost following the departure of Vereen to the New York Giants in free agency. Much like former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk ‒ and Vereen himself ‒ Cadet is a running back that, in addition to the screen game, adequately runs most of the wide receiver route tree, aligning in multiple spots along a formation, not just in the backfield. But that, alone, does not guarantee a spot on the 53-man roster come September. Signed to a modest contract, Cadet joins a crowded group of backs featuring LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and James White. The last four names represent his most direct competition for the third-down / pass-catching back role. With the NFL Draft still around the corner, further depth could be thrown into the New England running back mix. Given his limitations ‒ or, more accurately, unknowns at this point ‒ as a rusher and in pass protection, Cadet must demonstrate competency in these areas and avoid fumbles in order to make the team. As predictable as the former Patriot’s usage may have been, Vereen still had 100+ carries with 68 snaps in pass protection last season (including playoffs). For comparison, Cadet has fewer rushing attempts in his career than wide receiver Julian Edelman had in all of 2014 (including playoffs). But if Cadet proves sufficient in the other facets of the role, he has the opportunity to carve out a prominent niche in the Patriots offense. After all, few knew the name of running back Danny Woodhead ‒ signed off the scrap heap following his release by the New York Jets ‒- before he arrived in New England during the 2010 season. While the two players possess very different styles and stories of how they found their way to Foxboro, Cadet has the potential to make a name for himself in a similar way for the Patriots in 2015.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind. 

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