Over the next month or so, we’ll be looking at each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agent signings in detail. We continue today with a breakdown of their fifth pick, Blake Cashman.
The 22-year old linebacker Cashman is listed at 6’1” and 237 pounds and was selected by the Jets in the fifth round. Cashman was a second-team all-Big Ten selection last season after having racked up a career high 104 tackles. He had 183 tackles, including 31 for loss and 12 sacks in his four-year college career.
Cashman was on a team that won four state championships in high school and ended up heading to Minnesota as a preferred walk-on, eventually earning himself a scholarship after his sophomore season.
After contributing on special teams as a freshman, Cashman’s role increased over the next few years. He led the team in 2016 with 7.5 sacks and got his first career start in the team’s bowl game against Washington State. In 2017, he remained as a reserve as he battled some injuries, but still contributed 30 tackles.
2018 was a break-out year for Cashman, who became a full-time starter and racked up career highs in tackles (104), tackles for loss (15) and passes defensed (five). He also returned a fumble for his first career touchdown.
Cashman opted to skip his team’s bowl game at the end of the 2018 season to prepare for the draft. This paid off, as he had an excellent performance at the scouting combine.
The Jets traded down twice in the fourth round before selecting Cashman with the 157th overall pick in the fifth.
Now let’s take a look at what Cashman brings to the table, divided into categories.
As noted, Cashman blew up the combine, where he ran a 4.50 40-yard dash and did a 37.5-inch vertical jump. His other numbers were also very good, including a sub-seven seconds three-cone drill.
The only below average number Cashman posted was in the bench press, where he only did 18 reps.
This performance was a surprise to some experts, as pre-draft scouting reports suggested he lacked athleticism. However, his quickness and change of direction abilities are immediately apparent on film.
He does, however, lack prototypical size for the linebacker position and has extremely short arms and small hands. Chris Borland and Avonte Maddox are basically the only defensive combine participants to have any NFL success in recent times with arms that short.
Cashman has been an off-ball linebacker during his career with Minnesota, and his best fit is probably at the Will position. Within that role, he would often match up with slot receivers or tight ends. In 2017, he played on the line of scrimmage more often, but rarely rushed off the edge.
In high school, Cashman actually played as a cornerback until the playoffs in his senior year, which is when he was moved to linebacker.
Cashman’s ability to diagnose plays is impressive as he shows outstanding burst to the football, which enables him to avoid blockers and shoot gaps.
On this play, you can see he instantly reads the run action and gets out in front of the running back to make the open field tackle. Any false steps or hesitation on that play likely would have led to a touchdown.
He is similarly adept at reading and reacting when in coverage, notably in zone which is where the Jets had issues throughout last season.
Cashman can, at times, be fooled by misdirection. For example, in the Nebraska game, he went with the running back a handful of times on read-option plays where the quarterback kept the ball for a big play. However, he does possess excellent recovery speed.
If Cashman can be kept clean by his offensive line, he is tremendous in space. His ability to read and react and quickness to the ball enable him to make a lot of plays before anyone can get their hands on him.
With his short arms, it would be a concern that Cashman could get swallowed up once a blocker got their hands on him, but he’s able to mitigate this by being fast enough not to let that happen, or aggressive enough to maintain a leverage advantage when he is required to take on a block.
In pursuit, Cashman has tremendous range, takes good angles and hustles to ensure he’s constantly around the football.
Cashman’s 15 tackles for loss in 2018 was good for fifth in the Big Ten, with the only four guys ahead of him all being pass rushers.
With his former experience as a cornerback, Cashman moves a lot more fluidly than most young linebacker prospects in coverage. He is able to drive on the ball and jump routes, although he did not intercept a pass in college.
His athleticism and ability to read the play are crucial to his contributions in coverage situations. On this play, he picks up the receiver on a drag route in zone coverage and is able to track him across the field to limit the damage.
He’s also able to handle man coverage assignments as well, whether matching up against a slot receiver or tight end or picking up a back out of the backfield.
On this play, Cashman gets beaten for a touchdown by top-20 pick Noah Fant. It’s on plays like that where his lack of length could be an issue against bigger players.
That was, however, the only touchdown Cashman gave up in college and he didn’t surrender any plays of more than 30 yards when targeted.
Cashman is a very consistent tackler, who exhibits sound technique in terms of hitting his man low and dragging him to the ground. His lack of length could be an issue here, but he does a good job of keeping his feet driving once he gets a hold of his man, to reduce the chance of a runner breaking out of his grasp.
He’s not necessarily a big hitter, but Cashman packs a punch and has the ability to stuff runs in the hole without being driven for extra yardage.
While he had several missed tackles in 2018, he never had more than one in any game. Here’s a rare missed opportunity to make a play in the backfield as on this occasion, Cashman recognizes the option keeper correctly, but overcorrects and allows the quarterback to escape in the other direction.
While Cashman led the team in sacks in 2016, he did so by being a blitzer, not rushing off the edge, and only generally rushed a handful of times a game. In fact, as this spectacular sack of Luke Falk shows, he was even able to rack up sacks by cleaning up when not rushing the quarterback.
When he does blitz, Cashman has an excellent success rate, averaging a pressure on approximately one in every four rushes. His overall skill-set lends itself to this role.
Since being drafted, Cashman has stated that he’s spoken to Jets special teams coordinator Brant Boyer at length and that the Jets definitely have a plan for him. He was an outstanding special teamer in college and figures to contribute there from the get-go, regardless of his role on defense.
Cashman recorded 38 special teams tackles in his four years with the Golden Gophers and was among the NCAA leaders for special teams tackles in his sophomore and junior year.
He’s excellent in kick and punt coverage, with the athleticism to get down the field first and the technique to avoid missing many tackles.
In what would prove to be the final game of his college career, Cashman made this spectacular play on punt coverage, only to be controversially flagged and ejected for targeting despite the fact he appear to move his head out of the tackle.
Cashman has also been employed as a blocker at times, although his overall special teams workload reduced as he became a starter in his senior year.
Other than the controversial ejection, he only had one special teams penalty in his career - a false start on a punt in 2016.
At Minnesota, Cashman was twice voted as the winner of the Gary Tinsley Award, which goes to the player who most embodies the underdog spirit of Tinsley, a former Golden Gophers star.
Predictably, his former coaches and teammates speak in glowing terms about the former walk-on’s heart, determination and toughness and he would eventually become a team captain.
Cashman is a disciplined player who has only had one penalty on defense in his college career - an offside call on 3rd and 15 in a 2017 game.
There is a concern over Cashman’s shoulders, as he has had surgery to repair both of them while in college. In fact, one of the shoulders had had two surgeries. This limited him in 2017, but it’s worth noting that his career year came after the successful surgery following that season.
Aside from his contributions on special teams, Cashman’s best chance of getting on the field is as a coverage linebacker on sub-packages. If the Jets retain Darron Lee, then that might be unlikely to happen much this year.
Longer term, he has a chance to develop into a full-time player, which would probably be at the Will position because CJ Mosley should have the Mike role locked down for the foreseeable future.
When the Cashman pick was first announced, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was solely to bolster the special teams and that any contributions he might make on defense would be gravy.
Your mileage may vary on how valuable a special teams linebacker could be but if Cashman can be a true special teams monster like a Brendon Ayanbadejo - or even a Nick Bellore or Josh Martin type - then that’s not a bad return on a fifth rounder.
However, if he can contribute on defense too, then that makes the prospect of the pick being a true home run more feasible. Footage from Cashman’s senior year is extremely impressive, displaying an instinctual linebacker who is constantly around the football and making plays. A lot of draft experts are very high on him based on that film.
The lack of size and the red flags in respect of his previous shoulder issues are concerning, but if the shoulders check out okay - which the fact he was drafted at all suggests must have been the case - then his athleticism, instincts and tackling technique could make him a player who has a long-term future at the NFL level.
How soon he can contribute and just how good he can be remain to be seen, but time will tell.