In today’s ever-evolving NFL, the roles of safeties are ever-changing. There are players like Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals, who rotate between free safety and cornerback. Or teammate Deone Bucannon, who flips from strong safety to linebacker. That versatility appeals greatly to NFL teams, and one incoming rookie who appears a good fit in that latter role is Duke strong safety Jeremy Cash.
The 6’0″, 212-pound Cash, who won the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2015 after logging 101 tackles, 18 TFL (an eye-popping number for a safety), 2.5 sacks and three forced fumbles for the Blue Devils, made no bones about it while speaking with Corey McCartney of Fox Sports — he likes to hit people.
“Offensive players don’t really like to get hit and if that’s the case, you can make the game a whole lot easier by giving me the ball,” Cash said. “You can save us all some trouble. You don’t want to get hit by me, just give me the ball. It’s that simple. It’s not that complicated.”
“If it’s moving it’s liable to get hit,” Cash said. “I want to make sure my presence is felt and surely known. When a receiver comes across the middle and we see that guy, that’s not somebody we want to come across.”
It’s that physicality and ability to do damage near the line of scrimmage that drew comparisons to T.J. Ward of the Denver Broncos for Cash from Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. Zierliein, who called Cash a “rabid run-supporter when he’s in attack mode,” wrote, “Very big and very physical. All about it every time he steps inside the box. Eye-popping impact tackle production with 33 of his 98 tackles in 2015 coming for gains of two yards or less. Plays with big closing burst when he smells blood.”
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports agreed. “Often lining up near the line of scrimmage as a nickel cornerback, NFL scouts like Cash’s versatility and instincts in coverage, reading and anticipating well to drive on plays in front of him. He isn’t shy lowering his pads and driving through his target as a run defender, playing with nonstop violence and hustle. Cash is money near the line of scrimmage, projecting best as a run-supporting safety or even hybrid linebacker.”
However, while Cash’s instincts in coverage may be fine, his ability is another matter — one that concerns former NFL defensive back Dre Bly according to McCartney. “I have concerns about how he moves in the open field, just how he covers,” Bly said. “He was more so a hybrid player — they had him listed as a (defensive back), but he was more like a linebacker — if he gets drafted at safety, that’s going to be one of the things that teams have concerns about is how he covers tight ends or slot receivers in the open field.”
Cash, for his part, isn’t worried. “A lot of people were concerned and probably still are, that’s fine,” he said. “A lion doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep. When I go out there, whatever team drafts me is going to get a heckuva player that is going to play with relentless effort and an attitude and singular focus on doing whatever he can to help the ball club win games.”
Cash’s fire is admirable, but fire isn’t going to help him cover tight ends and running backs. The prevailing opinion appears to be that Cash is a Day 2 pick who would fare best as a Bucannon-type–playing safety in base defensive sets but kicking up to linebacker in subpackages. In some ways this could actually be a boon to his IDP value. It’s worked fine for Bucannon, and the more time Cash spends near the line of scrimmage the better for his fantasy prospects.
However, it took Bucannon a while to grow into his full-time role in the Arizona defense, and it’s much more likely than not that the same will hold true with Cash. So while we very well speak someday of Cash as an IDP-relevant “hybrid” type (assuming he maintains positional eligibility as a defensive back), the odds aren’t especially good that will be the case in 2016.