This past season, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense had a season to forget. There are many reasons one can pinpoint as to why this unit lacked the type of efficiency it once had from 2014 to 2018. It would be fitting to point out the fact that they played all season with backup quarterbacks, as this proved to handicap them during the course of the season.
One of the many things this offensive unit was lacking, was a consistent deep threat on the outside. The argument can be made that James Washington was more than adequate in providing this dimension. What should be noted about Washington, his natural position on the line of scrimmage is at the 'z' spot. As the season wore on, teams eventually found ways to neutralize his deep speed. As for Diontae Johnson and Juju Smith-Schuster, both are at their most productive in the slot or at the 'z' spot as well.
Enter Deon Cain. Before being picked up on waivers, Cain was a sixth round pick of the Indianapolis Colts from the 2018 NFL Draft. Though his targets we minimal this season, Cain proved to be a reliable target on passes over 20 yards. It is likely the Steelers will likely look to likely look to bolster their offensive with an outside threat this off season. Even if this is the case, Cain's performances make a case for him being the deep presence they need.
Size To Make Big Catches
On his first play with the Steelers in week 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cain showed his ability to make big catches with minimal separation.
In this sequence, we see him position outside against a Bengals cornerback showing press coverage. Ideally in this situation, Cain would look for outside leverage to beat the Bengals defender along the sidelines. When the ball is snapped, Cain executes a double move before speed releasing outside. What is interesting to note is the fact that Cain did not succeed in winning leverage on the outside during the stem, rather the Bengals defender did a good job giving him little space. When the ball is thrown, Cain adjusts slightly inside, and times his jump perfectly to make the 35 yard-reception. Excellent way to make a first impression.
At 6'2 with 4.43 speed and strength, Cain proved to be a matchup problem for many of the defensive backs he faced.
In this sequence against the Cleveland Browns, Cain is positioned as the 'x' receiver on the right, against a Browns defensive back in press coverage. When the ball is snapped, Cain executes a double move before releasing outside the Brown defensive back. Cain then does a good job using his inside arm to gain leverage and some separation. At this point, the Browns defenders compensates by holding onto Cain while the ball was in the air, resulting in a holding call.
Making Adjustments On The Fly
One of Cain's noted weaknesses is getting separation during the stem of his routes. Despite this flaw, Cain continuously finds ways to adjust and win battles in these cases.
In this sequence against the Arizona Cardinals, Cain is seen positioned at the 'z' spot (slot outside receiver on the right). When the ball is snapped, he executes a single move before speed releasing outside. As has been a common theme, he loses leverage and does not get much separation; in this case however, the ball is underthrown. As the ball comes in his vicinity, he adjusts back to the ball and makes the catch. The one major attribute he displayed was his catch radius which is excellent.
The upcoming wide receiver class has been projected by many as one of the deepest in years. For the Steelers, who are arguably the best at finding and developing receiving talent, it is inevitable that they dip into this class and find another gem in the upcoming NFL Draft. Even if this is the case, Cain has shown enough to be a consummate deep threat if given the more opportunities to show his value.