Keep this video in mind. It may save your life someday.
A.J. Cann, like Myles Jack who I reviewed last time, was a big part of a Jacksonville Jaguars draft class that earned near-unanimous praise. Cann was seen by most as a solid second round pick who was good value when he fell to the third round. I would include myself in that -- if you had told me we had taken Cann in the second and Yeldon in the third that would have made more sense to me than how it turned out.
However, unlike Jack and the 2016 draft class so far, Cann and the 2015 draft class have not lived up to expectations. Cann hasn't been a disaster -- he's no Will Rackley -- but he hasn't become the dependable starter that you would expect from a high third round pick.
Conventional wisdom is that Cann, like the Jaguars' offensive line as a whole, is serviceable in pass blocking but poor as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus agrees: out of 72 qualifying guards, Cann ranks 48th overall, 39th in pass blocking, and 58th in run blocking.
Despite his perceived struggles Cann is almost certain to win a starting guard spot, as much due to a lack of viable alternatives as anything else. He will most likely be returning to his right guard spot but he will also get looks at left guard. He played left guard in college, the Jaguars will be cross-training interior linemen, and the team has said they'll be considering moving him to the left side.
To take a look at A.J. Cann I decided to watch the Week 3 game at home against Baltimore. The 2016 Ravens were strong up the middle with defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, and linebacker C.J. Mosley so I thought they would be a good test for Cann. In addition this game was competitive throughout. If you're like me and have tried your best to block out the 2016 season, the Jaguars ended up losing 19-17.
Offensive line is a position where consistency is king so ten plays from one game shouldn't be seen as a comprehensive overview of Cann's season but I do think these plays paint a pretty clear picture of Cann and his skill set.
Week 3 vs. Baltimore Ravens (66 snaps, 26 passing, 20 rushing)
On the first play Cann tries to get to the second level and put a block on C.J. Mosley. It doesn't go particularly well. Mosley is unfazed by the contact and easily sheds Cann, putting him on the ground, allowing Mosley to help make the tackle on Yeldon.
The degree of difficulty on the second play may not be super high but at least it looks pretty. Cann gets a bit of a chip on Za'Darius Smith to help out Parnell. He reacts quickly to the blitzing linebacker and gets in good position to give him a shot and take him out of the play. As a bonus he sort of accidentally gets in the way of the nose tackle as well.
This is not a replay of the first play, but it might as well be. Once again Mosley effortlessly swats A.J. Cann away. The only difference is that this time it's Ivory and not Yeldon who gets taken down by a trio of tacklers.
This is a nice play with Cann looking strong as a pass blocker. Cann maintains nice balance throughout the play and gets two good punches in on Timmy Jernigan; the first knocking Jernigan's hands away and the second putting him on the ground.
You might be starting to notice a pattern with Cann as a run blocker. Defenders always look like they're in perfect control. This one doesn't impact the play, but Jernigan takes Cann where he wants to go and easily rips away from the block, putting Cann on the ground again.
It's a testament to how poor Cann's performance in the run game was against the Ravens that I'm using this play as the Obligatory Good Run Block. Cann doesn't do much on this run by Bortles. Brandon Williams' first step takes him away from where the play goes and Cann doesn't get much in the way of movement... but he does get in the way AND he stays on his feet. Good for you, A.J.
So a dude walks into the gym for the first time. He steps into the squat rack and, not knowing any better, loads up his body weight or something. He puts the bar on his shoulders and immediately crumples under the weight. That's the picture I get when I see this play. When an offensive linemen fails it's sometimes hard to identify the cause, but it's hard to watch this play and not come away with the conclusion that Cann's core and lower body strength just isn't remotely a match for the impact of Timmy Jernigan.
This is a good/bad pass block on Timmy Jernigan. Right away Cann gets pushed back and Jernigan wins the inside shoulder, but Cann actually does an impressive job of re-anchoring and getting in a position where he's actually relevant as a blocker and keeps Bortles clean for a little while longer.
If this wasn't such a quick pass Bortles likely would have been moved off of his spot but Cann salvaged this play. It again raises concerns about his strength but shows off some nice technique and quick feet.
There's not much more to say at this point. Cann barely puts up a fight. Brandon Williams walks through him and the play is just over at that point. Ivory gets dropped for a loss of yardage.
And for our last play Cann gives up a late sack to Lawrence Guy. Guy comes in on a stunt and Cann is immediately put off balance by the initial contact. Unlike two plays ago against Jernigan, Cann is not able to recover and Guy takes Bortles down.
It's safe to say that in my opinion the criticisms of Cann as a run blocker are not overblown. He was physically dominated by linemen at the line of scrimmage and linebackers in the open field. His technique looks good to me, I don't see any problems with his feet or balance, he has a good punch, he just gets overmatched physically.
Some might say:
"Well actually he only needs to get stronger! Every year I read about guys putting on 20 pounds of muscle in an off-season!"
I hate to break it to you but those guys are either:
C. Publicly admitting to steroid use
The reality is that experienced lifters can only put on a few pounds a year of additional lean muscle mass naturally. After four years in an SEC program and two years in the NFL, Cann is unlikely to make major gains in strength.
The reality that people sometimes forget is that genetics and natural athletic ability matter. NFL players are already in the highest percentile of athletic ability in the country. NFL players who excel long-term are in an even smaller percentile. Not every player has the capability of being one of the best at their position and my evaluation of Cann is that he is unlikely to be anything more than a serviceable NFL guard.
He's almost certainly going to be a starter this year because the alternatives are dire but I think he'll be a weak spot in the running game and the Jaguars should not count on Cann to be a long-term solution at guard.
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