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All right, draftniks. You know that Pewter Report is the undisputed king of Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft coverage. We’ve listed players, such as defensive end Gaines Adams (2007), linebacker Quincy Black (2007), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (2006), quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (2006), middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (2005), cornerback Torrie Cox (2003) – among others, at their respective positions in the Bucs’ Best Bets sections of Pewter Report’s annual Bucs Draft Preview.
As the 2008 NFL Draft approaches, Pewter Report’s resident draft expert, Scott Reynolds, has spent countless hours watching over 12 college games per week and scouting which prospects would look good wearing red and pewter next year. With over 500 college games to review dating back over the last four years and countless scouting contacts throughout the NFL, Reynolds is armed with the inside scoop needed to put together these scouting reports on players who might fit Tampa Bay’s schemes on offense and defense.
The casual football fan already has a good deal of knowledge on likely first-round draft prospects, such as LSU defensive tackle Glen Dorsey, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Virginia defensive end Chris Long. The goal of these regular Pewter Insider features on PewterReport.com is to inform you about players that will likely go in rounds 2-7 that might help the Buccaneers. We’ll make an exception with this report, though, as there is a lot of interest in a local Tampa Bay-area player who could wind up as a Buccaneer in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Will one of these players wind up being the next Ruud, Stovall or Gradkowski? We’ll all find out next April when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
ARIZONA CORNERBACK ANTOINE CASON VITAL STATS: At 6-foot, 185 pounds, Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason has good size for an NFL cornerback. Cason is long-limbed and has the wingspan to go up and challenge for the ball in the air. He has deceptive speed due to his long legs and is expected to run in the 4.5 range in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine or at his pro day workout.
Cason also has the ability to return punts and is dangerous in the open field.
CREDENTIALS Cason has been a model of durability as he has started all 46 games he played in at Arizona dating back to his freshman year in 2004. That season, he recorded 70 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, broke up six passes, forced three fumbles and picked off four passes, returning them 88 yards.
During his sophomore season, teams started throwing away from Cason and his numbers dipped. He recorded 50 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, five passes defensed and three interceptions.
As a junior in 2006, Cason recorded 62 tackles, defended seven passes, had one forced fumble and three interceptions, one of which was returned 39 yards for a touchdown to beat No. 8-ranked Cal. Cason considered leaving school after his junior season, but wanted to better his NFL draft stock in 2007.
He accomplished that goal with a stellar senior season in which he recorded career highs in several defensive categories. Cason posted 71 tackles, returned five interceptions 164 yards with two of those picks going for touchdowns, and he also broke up 14 passes. Aside from recording his first sack, Cason also forced a fumble. The playmaking cornerback from Long Beach, Calif., also was thrust into the role of punt returner and returned 27 punts for 271 yards (10.1 avg.) and two scores.
RECORDS AND SUPERLATIVES Cason, a two-time team captain, won the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented annually to the top defensive back in college football. Cason became just the second Wildcat in school history to win the Jim Thorpe Award, and the third player in Pac-10 history. Arizona’s Darryll Lewis also won the honors in 1990.
Cason’s 15 career interceptions are fourth all-time in Arizona history. He was a consensus first-team All-American in 2007. HIS BIGGEST GAMES 11/15/07 vs. Oregon 7 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 1 INT 42 yds. for TD, 1 PR for TD 9/1/07 vs. BYU 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PR for 22 yards 10/6/07 vs. Oregon State 6 tackles, 1 INT 60 yds. for TD, 1 pass breakup 11/11/06 vs. Cal 4 tackles, 1 INT 39 yds. for TD 9/4/04 vs. Northern Arizona 13 tackles, 2 FF, 1 INT, 1 pass breakup
WHY HE COULD BE A RED AND PEWTER PLAYER With the departure of long-time starter Brian Kelly, who bought out the last year of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent, cornerback has suddenly become an area of need for Tampa Bay. Cason has good man coverage skills as well as the ability to play zone coverage and would be an ideal candidate to replace Kelly.
The ability to come up and tackle in run support is critical for Buccaneers corners, especially when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin deploys his Tampa 2 zone scheme. Cason is not afraid to come up and make tackles in the running game and is a physical cornerback. Bucs defensive backs coach Raheem Morris likes big cornerbacks and Cason is a defensive back who is not only 6-feet tall, but he also plays big. Some bigger corners don’t use their height and wingspan as an advantage, but Cason does.
Having good ball skills is a trait Tampa Bay scouts look for and Cason recorded 15 interceptions at Arizona. The fact that he had no fewer than three picks per year shows that he is a model of consistency and not a flash in the pan cornerback who is living off one good season.
He comes from good bloodlines as his father, Wendell, played collegiately at Oregon and in the NFL with Atlanta (1984-87), and his cousins, Ken-Yon Rambo and Avieon Cason, play for the New York Jets and the Arizona Cardinals, respectively. Cason is a bright young man who majored in political science at Arizona.
Cason would be a great asset to the Tampa Bay area. He started a charity called Cason Cares at Arizona to benefit cancer research. His grandfather, who died in February of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), which is a blood disease similar to leukemia, was Cason’s role model. He raised $4,000 for cancer research – the NCAA limits Cason raising $7,500 – by selling “Cason Cares” wristbands for $3 apiece.
TOUGHEST TRANSITION IN TAMPA BAY There are some questions about Cason’s speed and agility, even though he participated in Arizona’s track team doing sprints and the 200 meter during the spring of 2006. Those questions will be answered at the NFL Scouting Combine and during his pro day. Cason is a good athlete, but not a great one. However, he does possess great instincts and a solid nose for the football.
But a slow time, perhaps a 4.55 or a 4.6, in the 40-yard dash may derail his hopes of being a first-round pick. Many scouts in the NFL community are projecting Cason will not run in the 4.4 range and he could fall to the Buccaneers in the second round. Cason will have to work on his speed, quickness and agility at the next level, as Kelly did coming out of USC, if he wants to make an impact in the NFL.
Other than a perceived lack of speed, the polished Cason doesn’t have any real negatives about his game.
SPECIAL TEAMS FACTOR Cason has the size and ability to be a factor on coverage units on special teams. He has a team-first attitude and would relish the role of coming in as a rookie and making a name for him self on special teams as well as on defense as he works his way up the depth chart on that side of the ball.
Although not a burner, Cason does have good open-field running ability and can make defenders miss when he has the ball in his hands. The fact that he averaged 10 yards per punt return and scored two touchdowns in his only season as a return man was pretty respectable and could earn him punt return duties at the next level.
If Tampa Bay can put the likes of Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard, neither of whom is the fleetest of foot, back there to return kickoffs and punts, respectively, it should not be afraid to put Cason back to return punts. DRAFT PROJECTION Cason is a high character draft prospect that was voted by his teammates as a captain during his junior and senior seasons. He possesses the ability to make big-time plays in big-time games and had his best game in the biggest game of his career against Arizona as a senior.
In that nationally-televised ESPN Thursday night game against the number 2-ranked and previously unbeaten Oregon, Cason was a one-man-gang. His seven tackles, five pass breakups and two touchdowns on a punt return and an interception return almost single-handedly beat the Ducks, who lost 34-24. It is believed that that command performance earned him the Jim Thorpe Award.
The Bucs have never been shy about drafting cornerbacks who don’t run blazing 40-yard dash times. Of the drafted cornerbacks over the past 12 years, only Donnie Abraham had high-end speed. The likes of Kelly, Ronde Barber and Dwight Smith all had first-round talent, but slower 40 times dropped them down to the second or third rounds. Alan Zemaitis was drafted in the fourth round largely because he ran the 40-yard dash close to 4.6 seconds.
If Cason can crack the 4.5 barrier in his timed 40-yard dashes, he has a chance to go late in the first round. However, if he runs in the 4.5s or the low 4.6 range as expected, Cason is more suited for the middle or later part of the second round.
THE QUOTE “I said, ‘I’m going to play every game just to try to get my name up there.’ You want your name in the stadium,” Cason said, regarding his decision to stay at Arizona for his senior season. “That’s a big goal for me. I came back to achieve those goals.”
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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