Every year we hear fans say how pointless the combine is, and that the numbers don’t mean anything. It might seem that way to a fan, but the players see an opportunity. Blake Cashman realized his opportunity, seized it, and ran with it. Cashman stood out in Indianapolis and made a name for himself. The wake following his performance was incredible. Media members all over the country started watching his tape and realized this guy is the real deal. As a small school prospect, Cashman needed this. To the casual fan, the combine is just a bunch of players running around in shorts, but to players like Cashman, it’s a life changing opportunity.
Blake Cashman is a four-year player from the University of Minnesota. He finished his career with the Golden Gophers with 183 tackles, 31 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Cashman was at an immediate disadvantage entering the combine, he’s a linebacker from Minnesota with short arms, so he wasn’t on anyone’s radar before the combine, but that changed quickly. Cashman lit up the combine; he ran a 4.50 second 40-yard dash, which ranks in the 94th percentile among linebackers; he jumped 37.5 inches in the vertical jump, which ranks in the 85th percentile; and he jumped 124 inches in the broad jump, which ranks in the 89th percentile. Cashman has some serious athleticism that took everyone by surprise.
Cashman was ready for this opportunity. He knew what he was capable of and was ready to go out there and prove himself to NFL fans everywhere, and he did just that. After his spectacular combine performance, people all over the country were wondering where Blake Cashman came from and wanted to see what he was capable of. After the combine ended, Cashman was the first player I watched.
The first thing I noticed about Cashman was his ability to get through traffic and get to the ball carrier quickly. Cashman explodes out of his stance and diagnoses the play very quickly. Despite having shorter arms and therefore a smaller tackle radius, he is a reliable blocker; he wraps up and finishes tackles. However, let’s see where his combine performance shows up in his game. It’s evident that Cashman has great range, he explodes from a standstill and can run down almost anyone on the field.
He is a very smooth mover, he has very good lateral mobility and ability to knife through small spaces. In coverage, Cashman is quite fluid; he keeps his hips loose and can flip them whenever he needs. He has more than enough athleticism to run with somebody or click and close to break on a throw. Cashman’s combine performance is a great way to understand some of the nuances of Cashman’s game and understand his strengths.
As a linebacker coming out of Minnesota, Cashman was never going to receive much hype. However, the combine is the perfect place to generate that hype, and Cashman knew that. Every year people underestimate the importance of the combine. It might not be important to a fan, but to a small school prospect with everything on the line, it couldn’t be more important.
Just last year, there was a certain Boise State linebacker named Leighton Vander Esch who killed the combine. I had never heard Vander Esch’s name prior to the combine, but he tested incredibly well. He ran a 4.65 second 40-yard dash, jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical and jumped 124 inches in the broad. Vander Esch ended up being a 1st round pick and was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year. Now I’m not comparing Cashman’s game to Vander Esch’s, but their situations couldn’t be more similar.
The combine is always a fun time of year; as draft fans, we get to see our favorite players either shine and get national attention, or see our favorite players fail and get questioned by everyone. However, in my opinion, the best part of the combine is finding players like Blake Cashman, who will finish as a top 4 linebacker for me and be inside my top-100 players come draft day. As fans, we must remember the combine isn’t for us, it’s for the players.
The combine gives players a place to standout to teams, and while all eyes might be on the big names; guys like Cashman are waiting in the rafters to make a name for themselves. Before the combine, Cashman was one of those players you see on the invite list and say, “who?” But now, Cashman is a player you want on your team. To a fan the combine might not important, but to the players, especially players like Cashman, it couldn’t be more important.