CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — The third in a series of stories with Clemson receiver Deon Cain as the AP follows his journey to the NFL draft.
Deon Cain, relaxed and ready, put on a strong showing for NFL evaluators at Clemson's Pro Day on Thursday.
Cain was grateful to work out on familiar ground in Clemson's indoor practice facility where he spent the past three years preparing to be a game-breaking wideout. Cain, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound receiver, said he thought he ran crisp routes and proved he was a reliable pass catcher.
He left the workout even more confident than at the NFL Combine he could make a long-term mark in the NFL.
"It was actually fun," Cain said. "I was more in control because at the combine a lot of people want to grab you. It's a little bit more relaxing because you're at home in your environment. It was second nature to be here."
And Cain moved with an ease among past teammates and friends he said he didn't always have at the combine. Not that it went poorly in Indianapolis two weeks ago — Cain stood on his 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds run there.
Cain took part in standing and vertical jumps, then watched Clemson's other participants and joked with former teammates like last year's starting quarterback Kelly Bryant and fellow receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who also gave up his final year of college for the NFL — until it was time to catch passes.
Cain said what NFL evaluators wanted to see from him is more precise r outes off the line of scrimmage and more reliability at catching balls thrown his way. Both took place, he believed, on Thursday in front of a handful of teams on hand to watch.
Clemson's pro day is typically a must-attend for scouts in recent seasons when prospects like first-rounders like defensive end Shaq Lawson, linebacker Stephone Anthony, receiver Mike Williams and quarterback Deshaun Watson went through drills.
This time, most of the Tigers' expected headliners such as defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant — all projected as early round selections had they declared for the pros — were just watching workouts instead of taking part. All three chose to play another year with the Tigers and, with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, could give Clemson four first-rounders in the 2019 draft — guaranteeing a huge crowd a year from now.
Cain felt ready for the jump after three seasons. He was a five-star find who transitioned from quarterback in high school to receiver in college. Cain tied for third on the team with five TD catches in 2015 as a freshman, tying the school freshman record of Sammy Watkins with five consecutive games with a scoring catch.
As a sophomore, Cain was dealing with his return from a failed drug test that got him sent home from the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Orange Bowl the year before. Cain finished with nine touchdowns, but often played a complementary role in a high-functioning offense with Watson, Williams, tailback Wayne Gallman and tight end Jordan Leggett.
Cain led Clemson this past season with 734 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told scouts Cain is still learning as a receiver and has another, much higher level to reach.
"I think Deon has the foundation he needs now to become an elite, great receiver," Swinney said. "I wish I could've kind of finished the race with him there, but he's ready to go and he's going to do well."
Swinney said Cain will be a better pro than college player, "because he's going to play pro ball longer than he's going to play college ball. His potential is really no limitation to it."
Cain will keep working the next few weeks. He said his representatives have set up several meetings with NFL teams next few weeks. He'll most likely spend the draft at home in Tampa, Florida, unless his stock rises— projections range from the second to fourth rounds — that he'll be asked to the NFL draft in Dallas April 26-28.
"We'll have to wait and see," Cain said with a smile.