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Chicago Bears Draftwatch: 2016 Safety Prospect Jeremy Cash

If you are looking for an anti-run missile in the 2016 NFL Draft look no further, Duke's Jeremy Cash is one of the best in the business.

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Draftwatch has taken one full lap around the field of potential draftees (all positions covered once, with apologies to the kicking game specialists), so the motor is all warmed up. Good thing too, because from here on out the whole pre-draft process will kick into high gear. In fact that acceleration has already begun. With bowl games wrapping up junior prospects are declaring daily, players are choosing agents and the Senior Bowl invites have been sent and accepted. Buckle up; it's on.

To keep pace Draftwatch is slimming down. The need for more speed and less drag means the rookie news and notes section will disappear along with "Reel to Real" (tips for watching game film). I also covered all of the Bears position group needs during the first series, so there isn't a need to revisit those every week. Instead I'll cut right to the chase and dive into a fresh player evaluation.

Jeremy Cash, Safety, Duke

Jeremy Cash looks like a safety (6'2", 210 pounds), he's labeled as a safety and even wears a low uniform number (16) that a safety might wear. That's all well and good but if you put on the game tape one thing is eminently clear: Cash is not a safety. He doesn't line up where safeties do, he doesn't have the responsibilities most safeties have, and he can do things many safeties cannot. Jeremy Cash is a linebacker in a safety's body.

Cash is a tremendous football player and ton of fun to watch. He's dynamic, explosive and exceptional at a few things. Against the run in particular he is a human highlight machine. His ability to read the play, penetrate the line of scrimmage and attack the ballcarrier is special. Cash's 18 tackles for a loss this year are hard evidence of that special combination of skills coming together to impact the outcome of games. He is also a solid player versus the ground game when he is not blitzing. Jeremy is a natural and fluid athlete who is hard to cut block, sorts through the trash at the line of scrimmage and can track a runner all the way across the field. He's an impact hitter with solid form who causes turnovers.

As a 5th year (redshirt) senior Cash is a very experienced football player. He gets his Duke teammates lined up properly before the snap and calls out adjustments as necessary. That indicates he understands football strategy, watches game film and recognizes opponent's tendencies. It also allows Jeremy to get himself in the best possible position to make plays. That is all good news but there is another, very different side to Cash's game.

When Duke's opponents switch from calling run plays to pass plays, Cash seems to duck into his personal phone booth and cover up his Superman suit with Clark Kent's street clothes. As excellent as he is against the ground game, he is absolutely lost in the passing game. He occasionally lines up to cover the slot receivers but he is a non-factor in coverage. In zone he floats back to spot but always keeps his eyes in the backfield hoping for the play to breakdown so he can attack the QB on the run. He has little awareness of the receivers behind him and therefore does not adjust his position to deny them a catch. Receivers regularly run wide open beside or behind him.

In the very few times I have seen him lined up in man coverage he is definitely outmatched. He has some good physical skills but no apparent pass coverage technique to pair them with.  Cash has the frame to provide a great jam at the line but he either doesn't know how or has been coached not to. Once he is moving away from the play, or has his back to the ball he becomes almost entirely ineffective. It is a startling dichotomy to witness; having the same player go from destroying an opponent's game in one phase to being an overlooked afterthought who poses no threat in the other.

Cash will certainly have to develop his technique against the pass as he transitions to the NFL. Along with that much-needed work he could also focus on some other areas of his game to help him maximize his potential:

  • Discipline: can get over aggressive and be flagged for silly penalties (offsides, roughing the passer, etc.)
  • Long speed: he is very quick and agile in the short area, but hits top speed quickly and lacks a "2nd gear" to stay with players down the field
  • Ability to shed blocks: needs to develop hand use and counter moves to disengage from blockers when the defensive scheme does not allow him a free release due to positioning or stunts

If the NFL had a relationship status on social media with players like Cash (that blur the lines between two established positions) it would be "It's complicated". The game is changing and player types change with it. In the last few years there have been plenty of examples in the draft who are a part of this trend. Players like Telvin Smith, Deone Bucannon and Shaq Thompson made teams unsure about whether they should play linebacker or if they should be safeties instead. They are "tweeners" and Jeremy Cash is one of them. Interestingly enough, all of the players I mentioned above have ended up at linebacker in the pros and have found success.

If Cash lands with the right team he can make an impact against the run in his rookie year. If his defensive coordinator is willing to flex formations and bend the traditional positional boundaries Jeremy will be very effective. For example, his skills and play style would make him an exceptional "spy" for a team who regularly faces opponent QB's who are legitimate running threats. On the flip side of that coin, if the team Cash ends up with lines him up as a standard safety or simply pounds him into offensive lineman from a traditional linebacker spot, he will likely struggle and disappoint.

I have been listening to (and recording) all of your suggestions about players you'd like to see profiled in this column. Thank you for all of those, and keep them coming. I am always open to suggestions and really appreciate all of the feedback you provide. Do you have a strong feeling about "tweeners" one way or another? Is there a tremendous small school prospect you've seen this year that I might not know about? Either way, drop it in the comments section below and as always, thanks for reading.