Safeties who can dominate in the box have become key in today’s NFL. Kam Chancellor serves as the heart and soul of a superb Seattle Seahawks defense as an enforcer over the middle and Deone Bucannon has transitioned excellently to linebacker with the Arizona Cardinals having operated at safety during his collegiate career at Washington State.
Players with that combination of versatility and physicality can be tough to find, however, there is one in the 2016 class in the form of Duke safety Jeremy Cash.
A transfer from Ohio State, Cash was very productive in his time with the Blue Devils, posting 332 tackles with 38 for a loss and eight sacks. In addition, he registered five interceptions, 14 pass deflections and nine forced fumbles.
Cash’s success should be no surprise, he has a strong frame for the position at 6’0″ and 212 pounds and benefits from long 32 3/8″ arms. What is impressive about Cash is how he combines his physical abilities with a fierce determination to find the football, attacking downhill and fighting off blockers often with sheer force of will.
The above play serves as an excellent example of Cash’s mentality, he quickly recognises the screen pass, powers through the block and makes a sound tackle for a loss.
Strong instincts and closing speed are hallmarks of Cash’s game. He attacks downhill, gets to the ball-carrier in a hurry and delivers a strong pop on contact, sending a message with his physical style of play.
Here we see a perfect example of Cash’s abilities when facing the run. He takes the right angle to the ball, closes extremely quickly and brings the ball-carrier down, limiting his opponent to a short gain and saving a first down as a result.
And he is just as effective against the short-passing game. Again Cash quickly diagnoses the screen pass, surges towards the ball-carrier and delivers a hard hit.
Further to his abilities as an open-field tackler when defending the run and the pass, Cash has proven extremely effective at generating pressure as a pass-rusher coming off the edge and through the middle.
On the above play Cash uses his agility to his advantage, displaying the patience to allow the play to develop and then working his way around blockers to bring down the quarterback for a sack.
The play below serves as evidence of Cash’s ability to read the play almost immediately as a pass rusher. He quickly knifes into the backfield and sticks to the quarterback despite the play-fake to the running back, dropping him for a sack and forcing a fumble, which is recovered by the Duke defense.
Cash’s physicality is not limited to tackling, however, he also lays the wood when defending the pass, dropping the shoulder to take the receiver out of the play when he is unable to beat the pass-catcher to the football.
On this play against Miami in 2014, Cash does an excellent job of planting his foot in ground and driving towards the ball, lowering his shoulder to ensure the receiver is unable to make the catch, again saving a new set of downs.
Despite his range of abilities, there are a number of weaknesses that may lead NFL teams to be wary of taking Cash in the early rounds of the draft.
Cash had surgery on a wrist injury that forced him to miss the Pinstripe Bowl at the end of his final season with Duke and any team looking to deploy him as a deep safety should be concerned by plays like the one shown below, where he focuses too much on the action in the backfield and allows his receiver to get a release into the end zone for a touchdown.
Slow to drop into zone coverage with proper depth and possessing a laboured hip turn, Cash is far from the complete safety and the wrist injury he suffered in 2015 will have led to his medicals being closely examined by NFL teams in the pre-draft process.
But in terms of safeties who can operate in the box there are few with more natural ability than Cash.
Indeed, Cash, with his size, length and physicality, is an ideal box safety prospect and has the ability to influence the running game and the passing game. If NFL clubs are eyeing a player who can have the same impact as Chancellor and Bucannon, then they should look no further than Cash, who has the tools to make a quick impression at the next level.