Lawrence Cager was one of those kids in high school who was great at every sport. He played baseball, basketball, soccer, outdoor and indoor track. He set the indoor Maryland record for the high jump in 2014. He chose football when he was a freshman on the advice of two seniors at his high school Trevor Williams (Eagles) and Adrian Amos (Packers) who both left that year to play at Penn State.
His coach for football and soccer Donald Davis marveled at his athletic ability, “He’s a kid that could do everything,” Davis recalled. “I thought he was just a tremendous athlete, gifted in a lot of different ways.”
In many cases it is tough to play so many sports, the physical toll can be quite painful but not for Lawrence. “It was a blessing, and it really just helped me with every sport because I was always in shape,” he said. “A lot of the sports integrated with each other, and a lot of the fundamentals boiled down to hand-eye coordination. In baseball, I was a center fielder, and I was tracking fly balls every day. So going to catch a go ball in football was so easy for me because it was like a routine fly ball. … A season ended, and it was, boom, time to go to baseball or to basketball or to track. I liked it. It kept me busy.”
Cager was a Miami Hurricane for three years but had some questionable QB play. In 2018 he led the team with 6 TDs, 21 receptions and a 17.8 yards per reception. He had to sit out his sophomore year because of knee surgery so he had an additional year of eligibility. He is a smart kid who graduated on time so he transferred to Georgia to play for Kirby Smart in the SEC for his final college year. Georgia had their top 4 receivers all graduate and move on to the NFL so he was sorely needed.
Even though he couldn’t transfer until he graduated in May he still led the Bulldogs in receiving through 8 games with 33 receptions for 476 yards and 4 TDs. This was despite having a shoulder injury earlier in the year. In game 8 he broke a bone in his ankle which finished him for the year. Cager was considered a day three NFL pick up to then, but the injury relegated him to UDFA status. The Jets were one of the teams that had showed interest in Cager having talked with him in person twice before the pandemic hit.
Cager has good size. He is 6’ 5” 220 lbs with excellent all around athletic ability. He is still raw as a receiver,more of an athlete than a honed receiver at this point. Still he has a skill set that can be used in the short term until his technical acuity catches up with his athletic ability. Here are some of the plays he made over the last few years.
This first play is a little unique. It is something back in the day we would call a possum route. We called it that because you would come off the ball like you weren’t going anywhere, but you were really just waiting for the vertical routes to take away the coverage underneath. It is a way you get a speedy or elusive receiver the ball in space with only a few defenders to tackle him. If he breaks a tackle or makes a man miss he can make a big play.
This is a 3rd and 14 play with a pass that travels only 5 yards, but Cager is able to use his speed to get the first down. You can see him wait until the traffic clears before he makes a move to cross the field then look for the ball. Offenses use this type of play when they see the defense go into deep zone coverage on a 3rd and long on film. They use this type of play rather than to throw the ball down the field into crowded zones.
This next play is against Notre Dame. It is not an overly sophisticated route as Cager just basically runs 15 yards, gets position on the smaller defender then turns to look for the ball. These are the type of plays that can work for Cager until he increases his route running ability. They could use a small package of plays like this for him and Sam to use.
Cager has glorious length (33 3/8” arms) with a wingspan of nearly 80”. This is why I believe he has a chance to catch on with the Jets if he even shows something during the training camp. This other view shows how he dominates his opponent with size.
The opponent is Troy Pride, Jr. a 5’ 11 1/2” 194 lbs corner who was a 4th round selection in the 2020 Draft by the Carolina Panthers (#113 overall). Cager actually wrong foots himself on the jump which makes him look awkward while going up for the ball. Yet he uses his body well to shield the defender. It is also a help when he spreads his arms out wide. It is an impediment to a defender but is rarely called for offensive pass interference.
Cager is also effective with breaking routes. He has no fear going inside.
Cager gains a tremendous advantage once he crosses a defender’s face. He is just very difficult to get around because of his size.
Now to be honest this is a fairly simple route, but it is not run very well. NFL corners will read this easily. He never really threatens the corner. He even slows to make his cut. This works in college, but in the NFL a corner will know what he is doing then cut in front of him (crossing his right shoulder) for the INT. If the defender is on his hip he is ok as long as the ball is thrown far enough out in front of him. You can see the athletic ability. Now we just need the technical refinement to make him a complete receiver.
This next play is notable because Cager continues to work even though his route has basically stopped. His QB is in scramble mode so he does a great job of finding an open space deeper than his original route to give the QB a viable target.
Why he slows his initial route then runs into the defender is a mystery, but he doesn’t quit on the play. When a QB scrambles you want to (if you are a receiver) find an opening deeper than you currently are so your QB can find you. If you come back to the QB the defenders will follow bringing more players closer to the pass. If you go deeper, then if the defender follows you it takes opponents away from the QB allowing him to pick up yards with his feet possibly or allow more shallow windows to open.
This next route is exactly the type of play that Cager can bring to the offense right away and have great success with. This route exploits the height and wingspan of to just go up then grab the ball. It’s as basic as it gets.
FSU defender Stanford Samuels had little hope of breaking up this play. This is a 4th down play late in the 3rd quarter with his team down 20 points. Miami would come back to win this game by a point. Cager has some strong hands plus he is adept at catching the ball away from his body. This ball could have been even thrown another half foot higher if the defender was a little taller.
This next play is from the same game a little earlier. I held on to it to put two plays back to back to show the footwork (or lack thereof) on Cager’s routes. This is another in breaking route. More precisely it is a quick slant route that allows Cager to quickly cross the face of the defender then make a play.
This is awful setup by the defensive coordinator as you have a defender who is completely dwarfed by the offensive player on an island with half of the field to roam. He has complete freedom to go inside or outside. This is a recipe for disaster. There is not even a safety in the middle of the field. The QB must have been drooling. This is just pitch and catch. The defensive alignment almost gift wraps a TD.
Cager is a tall receiver, but he has great ability to go down to get a pass, something that is difficulty for many taller receivers to do. He has been working on this since high school. It’s what his coach Davis said is the ability to “get small.”
“Everybody thinks that big receivers are guys that can just climb the ladder,” Davis said. “He’s a guy that can go down and get balls, catch balls on the sidelines. He understands the game. So he knows how to manufacture first downs, how to get to the sticks and convert first downs. That’s the one big thing he can bring to a team.”
What I want to point out is the footwork by Cager. It is something he will need to work on.
Those steps will not work well in the NFL. Corners will see this on tape then just come up and knock him over as he dances. What I believe he is trying to do here is what is called a diamond release which I will explain later.
Bottom line: he will need to work on his footwork, but the Jets have a great teacher in Shawn Jefferson. In fact I will show you the proper diamond release as done by Mr. Jefferson’s son Van Jefferson, one of the most technically sound receiver to come out of college the last 3 or 4 years.
This last play is the same play, a dance and a slant which works well against smaller defenders who play off coverage. Mr. Cager will not be seeing any off coverages on the 10 yard line in the NFL.
This time they have another receiver inside of him, but he takes coverage away as he runs a drag route across the middle. You can see that Cager again towers over the player in front of him. The ball needs to be thrown out in front of Cager or a player with longer arms is going to deflect that pass up into the air with defenders all compressed near the goal line. That is not what you want, Make a good throw, and you have an easy TD.
Again I will show you the footwork on the play just so you can see that the last play wasn’t an anomaly.
You might think I am nitpicking, but there are WR coaches who will go ballistic if they see footwork like this. Every step a receiver takes should have purpose, especially near or at the line of scrimmage.
The Diamond Release
The diamond release is run against man coverage to get a receiver open by crossing his defender’s face. This is Van Jefferson running it.
Each step is carefully orchestrated. You take 3 hard steps to you right (or left depending what side of the field you are on) as if you are going to the corner for a fade route. You then cut hard on the third step back across the defender. If you do it correctly you should be open, or the defender will grab you to cause interference.
Van hops a little on the first step because he ran the same release on the opposite side of the field also for a TD. The hop is a nuance to make the defender think he is trying a different release maneuver. Here is the one from the opposite side.
The key is you have to get the defender to flip his hips because he wants to beat you to the corner. Once he flips his hips the receiver has him. The only way to stop the completion is to interfere. You notice none of these defenders played off coverage. You have to play press near the goal line, or you are at the receiver’s mercy.
I really think Lawrence Cager has a shot to make the roster if he can show some technical acuity in training camp. He will almost certainly make the practice squad if he doesn’t make the roster. Cager had some bad luck in college with injuries plus poor QB play, but he has a good attitude and is a smart kid. Before he was injured he said, “Whoever takes me whatever day and whatever round is going to get a player that is going to try to outwork every single person in that building – whether it’s a $100 million person or it’s a practice squad player,” he said. “I’m going to come in and try to outwork everybody to prove that you didn’t just draft a backup player, but that you drafted a player who’s putting the work in to try to be an all-time great.”
The kid has a shot.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?