Other than watching your favorite NFL Draft prospects show off their athleticism at the Scouting Combine, there are always some hidden gems that emerge. This year, we entered the third day of the Scouting Combine and we were all impressed by the defensive linemen in the morning portion of the day. Once we transitioned to the afternoon, we were all expecting Devin White to light up the day with his athletic ability.
One name we weren’t expecting and have rarely discussed is Blake Cashman from Minnesota. Stop scratching your head and Google his name. One of the first bits of information you’ll find is that he’s a former all-state linebacker from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. During his time in high school, he found success playing cornerback and linebacker. During his senior season, he made 72 tackles and helped his team finish 13-0 with a state championship.
I’m sure you’re expecting to hear about him being some five-star recruit and that he passed on offers from Ohio State and Alabama. Unfortunately, just the opposite is true, but it’s the best thing that could have happened for Blake Cashman. He wasn’t ranked on the major recruiting sites like 24/7 Sports and, despite taking a visit to North Dakota State, he ended up walking on at Minnesota.
During his freshman season, he didn’t see a redshirt like most players. He played defensive back but primarily saw the field as a special teams player. Overall, his action was limited, but it was all part of the living curve. The transition to college football wasn’t easy for him, but he didn’t give up. He was given an opportunity to start at linebacker during his sophomore season and started to turn the corner. He recorded 7.5 sacks his sophomore year. During his junior season, the statistics regressed, but the heart and knowledge of the player grew. Fortunately, the hard work paid off for him and he earned a scholarship. Not only did he earn a scholarship, but he also became one of the team captains for the Golden Gophers.
He has battled through shoulder injuries, but they weren’t enough to keep him on the shelf long term. Once is senior season kicked off, he never looked back. If anything, he used being overlooked as motivation. This motivation hasn’t stopped, and he absolutely crushed the NFL Combine.
— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) March 4, 2019
Running the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds helped garner some attention. He then jumped 37.5 inches and had times in the 3-cone drill of 6.95 seconds and 4.12 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. Cashman gained our attention because of the Combine, but after reviewing some of his tape from earlier in the season, he should have had our attention all along for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Reading and Defending Screen Passes
If you’ve watched your favorite football teams, you’ve obviously seen a basic screen pass from the quarterback to the running back. Sometimes it doesn’t look so simple when the linebacker over-pursues or doesn’t read the play fast enough. It’s a bit different when Blake Cashman is on the field.
On the play above, you can see where Cashman is highlighted. Initially, he starts to backpedal but quickly reads the offensive lineman. He notices how they’re releasing off the line of scrimmage and are breaking free toward the second level. He then works off a block by a wide receiver and quickly pursues to the running back. Once the running back tries to cut up the field, he’s instantly met by Cashman and is brought down by the ankles.
Do I even need to say anything about the play above? If you’re not impressed by Cashman going step-for-step with a running back, you might need to reevaluate the way you watch the game. He puts himself in good position against the left guard, and once he gets through, it’s just step-for-step toward the sideline before gathering another tackle for his resume.
Pursue to the Football
As a former coach, there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a player walk around the field. Taking plays off is one of my biggest pet peeves, but for Blake Cashman, there are no breaks. He’s got great athletic ability and is a high motor player than can make a big difference for a team on special teams or on defense.
On the play above, you can see Cashman just aligned inside the left hash. The running back takes the handoff and clearly runs away from him. That doesn’t matter. He quickly gets moving and starts taking the proper pursuit angle to the running back and brings him down for the tackle. These plays will win you over in plenty of film rooms and judging by the 26 teams that have met with him at the Combine, they’re highly interested in him.
Over the Top with Control
So many times you’ll see a linebacker misread the exchange out of the backfield and guess on the direction of where the ball is going. When this happens, they’ve got to make up for lost time, so they come over the top with very little control, and this leads to bad angles or over-pursuing the ball carrier.
On the play above, you can tell that’s not the case for Cashman. He reads exactly where the running back is going, and he’s prepared for each gap the back might end up bursting through. Quickly, he finds the running back and fills with good control and brings him down for the tackle. This explains why he finished as the highest-rated linebacker in the Big Ten, according to Pro Football Focus (90.2 overall grade), tallying 52 run stops.
Fluid Hips, Angles, and Proper Reads
Most linebackers don’t possess the ability to show this on film. It’s different for Cashman, who does have that ability, and it accounts for why he was named second-team All-American by Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, he was named Second-Team All-Big Ten by the conference’s media.
Last year, we all loved the way that Roquan Smith could fly around the field with hip fluidity, speed, and the proper angles to get to the backfield. Blake Cashman isn’t that type of player, but he shows plenty of promise. On the play above, take a look at how gets through two blocks but is committed to the heels of the offensive line. Once he notices the quarterback has the ball, he recommits and quickly, flips his hips, and changes his direction. This leads to an easy tackle for him.
On the play above, he does a great job reading the down blocks that happen, but look at how he plants his feet in the ground and is able to change his angle towards the running back. The tackle is a bit high, but having that hip fluidity and mental processing can help with improving your angles to the backfield. He could lower his pad level on this tackle, but we can live with it since so many helmets made it to the ball.
Displaying Good Range
If you don’t have range as a linebacker, you won’t see the field. Fortunately, Cashman makes plenty of plays by showing off his range.
We could also call the play above good pursuit, but having that ability to go lateral like that is just him showing off his range. He steps with his left foot but notices the toss and reads this play the entire way and ends up assisting on the tackle.
Seeing him cover slot receivers is a promising sign, and it’s clear he’ll also be covering tight ends at the next level. On the play above, you’ll see the receiver he’s covering break towards the sideline on an out route, but he shows off that range again and closes towards the receiver before he can turn upfield and gain any additional yardage. This will be key for him to do on a consistent level on third downs at the next level.
Blake Cashman finished as the highest-graded linebacker in the Big Ten this season pic.twitter.com/rv6T2vg138
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 13, 2018
Change Your Rankings
More often than not, I try not to change my rankings too much based on the numbers at the Combine. But when film backs up what we see at the Combine, it’s time to change the rankings. I’ll need to watch a couple more games, and that includes the last home game, from Blake Cashman. Yes, in his final home game, he had 20 tackles against Northwestern. We’ll get to that game and you’ll find clips of that on Twitter @RussNFLDraft.
For now, Blake Cashman made himself some serious cash after the Combine. He went from being somewhere on day three or a potential UDFA to a potential day two pick. There will be plenty of teams that like his effort and range.
He’s also shown his ability to have the ideal range of what a linebacker in the league today possesses, and for the most part, he’s got requisite size to play the position. He checked into the Combine at 6’1″ and 237 pounds, and his tape proves that he carries his size well and backs it up with relentless effort to the football. Meanwhile, how can you not like his work ethic? He went from being a walk-on to a scholarship and then a team captain. Now he can go to the NFL Draft and get ready to hear his name called within the top 100 picks.