After a long hiatus, 5-Play prospect is back, and I feel good about this one because one of the last 5-Play Prospect columns I wrote was about me telling people that I don’t think Anthony Nelson is a player that you prioritize or draft at all because of how replaceable I think his skillset and film production is — and then the dude goes out and has one of the best Combine performances for any of the defensive linemen there this year, so go figure.
But I am excited about this one because I get to talk about a player who has a ton of buzz following his eye-opening Combine performance, Mr. Blake “Johnny” Cashman (I have no idea if anyone calls him Johnny in reference to the famous singer Johnny Cash).
Cashman came out of high school in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and walked on to the Minnesota Golden Gophers as a special teams player, choosing to pave his own way at his hometown school rather than accept a scholarship at a smaller school. Cashman worked his way up from being just a special teams player to a rotational linebacker role, and after his sophomore season ended with a fantastic showing in the Holiday Bowl, Cashman was finally put on scholarship. In his senior season, Cashman was not only on scholarship but was a captain of the team. He also led the team in tackles with 104.
At 6-foot-1, 237 pounds, Cashman is undersized for a linebacker, but where he may be lacking in size he makes up for it in speed and a motor that simply never quits. Cashman skipped out on his team’s bowl game to prepare for the Combine and the NFL Draft, and last week he proved that decision to be well worth it. In the athletic testing, Cashman ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, recorded a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 124-inch broad jump, all near elite scores for the linebacker position in the NFL.
Cashman not only has the background coaches love as a kid who worked his tail off to proved he belonged as a starter in a DI program, but also has the athletic numbers to get the mind going as to what he can be at the next level.
With that in mind, let’s look at five plays of Cashman and see what this guy is all about.
Play No. 1: Eyes On The Prize
When I popped in Cashman’s tape the first thing that stood out to me is how this guy is able to see through all the chaos and still find the ball. Some linebackers have a tendency to get distracted when the offense runs play action, RPOs or any play where there is pre-snap motion involved.
But not Cashman.
It’s sometimes funny to watch his tape because Cashman is just this undersized middle linebacker and yet, as shown in the play above, he is so focused on the ball carrier that he just throws off or brushes off blockers like it’s nothing to make stops on the ball. Cashman, as displayed at the Combine, is so quick and fast that he is almost slippery when blockers try to engage with him.
This man has his eyes on the prize at all times. He is rarely fooled off the snap, and either made the tackle himself or was in camera view to whomever did make the tackle in all three full games that I watched.
Cashman has an innate ability to keep his eyes where they need to be while moving all around the most cluttered part of the field. That is a skill in and of itself.
Play No. 2: Knack For The Backfield
Piggybacking off his ability to see clearly into the backfield off the snap, Cashman has a great desire to make plays in the backfield. He looks like he is shot out of a cannon on some plays, and that allows him to make stops before the line of scrimmage, as shown above.
This is a testament to his 15 tackles for loss this season.
The play above encapsulates not only Cashman’s ability to keep his eyes in the backfield and stay slippery off blockers, but also his pursuit speed, something very needed to record double digit tackles for loss.
As the Combine confirmed, Chashman has the foot speed to make a difference. Some linebackers only have the speed to be disruptive. Disruption holds some value, but being able to finish a play in the backfield is a next step up. Cashman has that desire and athletic ability on blitzes between the tackles.
Play No. 3: Hips Don’t Lie
Another aspect of Cashman’s game that popped out to me pretty early on after starting his film was how fluid he is moving in coverage, particularly when flipping his hips.
Some linebackers have slow hips and just are not fluid when moving side to side. That hurts their ability to keep their eyes on the quarterback while backing up in zone coverage. For Cashman, this is a strength of his, as shown above, as the linebacker at the top of the field.
This next play took that a step further. See how Cashman was able to flip his hips in multiple directions with ease? That’s what allows him to keep his eyes where they need to be to shut down throwing lanes and warrant “no-throws” in his direction. As long as he can keep looking at the quarterback’s eyes, he’ll always see where the ball is going as soon as a decision is made.
Cashman’s fluidity with his hips make him great in space in coverage and in pursuit.
Play No. 4: Small Still Matters
As much as I love what Cashman can do in space, we have to remember that playing linebacker means that you’ll be asked to take on contact often. There is a reason why players of Cashman’s size climb an uphill battle to make it in the league. That’s because, at the end of the day, it’s still a big man’s game.
As shown in the clip above, Cashman came into the right tackle at full speed and it barely even moved the right tackle back; he handled him easy. This is just the reality.
Cashman’s arm length of 30 inches and wing span of just over 73 inches scored in just the first and second percentiles in the NFL. Is arm length really that big of a deal for a linebacker? Well, sort of.
Check out the play above, Cashman whiffed on his tackle (which does not happen often) and he wasn’t even able to trip up the ball carrier because he ran out of arm to make contact.
Some measurables aren’t “needed” to succeed at the position, but for players that are above average in certain measurements, they have added bonuses that can help them still make plays when technique might not be perfect. For Cashman, if he isn’t fully squared up to tackle someone, his less-than-ideal measurables don’t cut him any slack.
Play No. 5: Fundamentals For Days
But, on the bright side, this guy has some seriously good fundamentals to his name.
Whether it’s keeping his eyes up when rushing the line of scrimmage, his backpedals, shuffling and understanding of spacing in coverage or when he has to square up and make a tackle, Cashman’s technique usually always comes through.
Even in opens space and one-on-one, I trust Cashman to make tackles more than so many other linebackers in this class.
And that bring me to my overall conclusion of Cashman.
It’s a weak linebacker class -- heck, it seems like a weak draft class overall right now -- and Cashman could really capitalize on that. He’s a linebacker who really knows what he’s doing in space, and that is the preferred box to check with linebackers, as many have a tendency to get lost or lose technique when things open up -- this also shows a good understanding of mental processing for the position, which also adds hope to successful production under pressure. Cashman is an ideal WILL linebacker at the next level from a schematic standpoint due to how well he can operate in space, and someone I would justify with a Top 100 selection.