The 2018 Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year was a consensus All-American a year after being named a first-team All-Big Ten selection. He was named a back-to-back Academic All-Big Ten performer. We spotlighted the fact that his leadership within the program was verified when he became just the second non-senior to be elected captain during the Jim Harbaugh-era. His father, Devin, Sr., was a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1995 NFL Draft after starring at Florida State.
The NFL is always looking for versatile performers capable of transitioning to the next level. Here are three prospects who bring value to teams on fourth down and beyond.
Travis Homer 5’10 201 Miami (Fla.)
Homer took his game to another level the last two seasons at the running back spot. He averaged nearly six yards per carry in 2017 and followed that up with nearly the same yards per carry average in 2018. The former four-star recruit was a team captain for the ‘Canes and one of its best leaders.
As a freshman in 2016, he rushed for just 44 yards. During that same season, however, he notched eight special teams tackles. He used his 4.48 speed for three seasons to continue to perform admirably at the gunner position, which essentially is a displaced wide receiver on the punt team used to run down and cover punts.
In 2018, despite starting at running back, Homer posted 10 tackles.
He has also lined up inside on the punt team. You can look at his work on the punt return unit as a hold-up guy and laud his work as well (see Berrios big punt return, Russell Athletic Bowl ’16). When former Miami (Fla.) head coach Mark Richt was asked about why Homer remained on the special teams, he had the perfect response:
“We need good players on there (special teams) and he’s one our best at it. You better have guys who know what they’re doing and can get people on the ground.” (https://www.foxsports.com/florida/video/1102010435956).
Isaiah Johnson 6’2 207 CB-Houston
There aren’t many prospects who have run a hitch route, covered the opposing team’s top receiver and run down at the gunner position. Johnson is one of those prospects. The former 110-meter hurdler at Rudder HS (Tex.) contains one of the more intriguing profiles in the 2019 NFL Draft. Blessed with 33-inch arms, he is still rounding out his game at cornerback. The former collegiate wide receiver does, however, exhibit a feel for recognizing route combinations.
In-between repetitions at cornerback and wide receiver, Johnson managed to sneak into the 2019 Senior Bowl despite just 15 career starts at cornerback. He also managed to sneak in time on special teams. In the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl, he consistently defeated one-on-one hold-ups at the gunner spot and he also stood out against SMU in that same year (tackle, SMU ’16). The upside in developing Johnson as an outside corner is that he can instantly be a special teams contributor. He has also shown up as an L2 on the kickoff team and was often the first player down the field. His size and 4.4 speed make him tough to grasp in either facet of his game.
Blake Cashman 6’1 237 Minnesota
Cashman impressed NFL personnel at the NFL Combine with his 4.5 speed and lower body agility. It all came after a third-team All-Big Ten campaign that featured 104 tackles, 2.5 quarterback sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He also scored on a fumble return and notched five pass break-ups.
The former Eden Prairie High School star won four straight state titles at the prep level. It took him until the spring of 2017 to even earn a scholarship from the Golden Gophers. When we covered him in the 2016 Holiday Bowl, he earned MVP honors after dominating the game against Washington State on both special teams and defense (12 tackles, QB sack, two tackles for losses).
As an R2 on the kickoff team, he ran by multiple blockers for most of the night and posted three tackles on the kickoff team. He generally plays faster than everyone else in either punt (where he has forced several fair catches, see Northwestern ’16) or kickoff coverage. As a linebacker, he trusts his first read and believes what he’s seeing on the field. We think Cashman is one of the true value picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.