WESTFIELD, Ind. — This time last year as the Indianapolis Colts were gearing up to begin training camp practices, rookie sixth-round draft pick Deon Cain was someone many were excited about.e
It didn't take long for that excitement to turn into expectations as the young wide receiver made big play after big play in his first NFL training camp.
Disaster then struck in the Colts' first preseason game, however, as Cain limped off the field with a torn ACL.
His rookie season was done before it really even began.
After a long recovery and rehab process, Cain is back on the field as the Colts open up this year's training camp, and one can't help but think back to last year's strong camp performance and the potential he flashed.
And if Cain can stay healthy, some believe he can make quite the impact once the regular season gets underway.
ESPN recently released Football Outsiders' list of the NFL's top 25 breakout candidates of 2019, and Cain came in at No. 15:
15. Deon Cain, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 22 | Draft: Sixth-round pick in 2018
Offensive snaps in 2018: 0
"Here's a promising wideout who didn't get to play at all last season after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and it's a shame for him because the players the Colts had set up ahead of him on the depth chart would have been child's play for him to eclipse.
Cain ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at 202 pounds; that and an explosive 6.71 3-cone drill time that told the story of his lateral agility. ...Cain has true outside receiver talent, which is something you don't often see available in the sixth round, with the ability to play to his back shoulder and the speed to make it worthwhile. He also has great open-field vision.
We leave him this low only because receivers who don't make an impact right away sometimes have trouble taking hold of a depth chart. Parris Campbell's selection likely fills two of the three available starting slots for Colts wideouts for the time being, with T.Y. Hilton also hanging outside. ...But Cain stood out last summer, is getting talked up again this summer, and has the talent to contribute right away. Let's see if he gets the chance this time around."
While it's not exactly known why Cain slid down so many draft boards last year coming out of Clemson, there was no denying the fact he had early-round stuff. The Colts finally bit in the sixth round, and the pairing of him in the Colts' offense with quarterback Andrew Luck made people perk up and realize there could be something there.
After just a couple training camp practices, the Colts immediately looked like they were reaping the reward of every other team passing on Cain as he seemed to make big-time catches routinely in practice.
He was fast, and he was leaping over everyone, plucking the ball out of the air while often contorting his body in flight. What people saw from him when he played with current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson earlier in their collegiate careers was again taking place on the field at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.
As it turns out, Cain had some pretty legendary help that offseason in the form of Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy Moss.
"It was a blessing. I learned a lot from him," Cain told reporters last summer about his experience working out with Moss and what he learned.
"Mostly just to learn how to attack DB's leverages, learn how to run certain routes in different coverages. Really just to learn about the NFL and how to be a pro. Mostly things about football, but he also told me things on how to be a pro, like showing up in meetings and how to approach different things. More than just on the football side, but I learned a lot from him."
When the Colts departed the team facility following their Divisional Round playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Cain was already focused on finishing his rehab and improving his game for 2019.
"I want to improve on concentrating on the ball in the air, a lot more on route running — just being more crisp in my route running — and film study," Cain told Colts.com at the end of the 2018 season. "I'm getting more into the film room now since I have this much time, but (I want to) learn more about defenses — certain defenses — DB's tendencies, and just learn more about this game because I want to have a long career here. So I want to know way more than what I know now. It's gonna take time, but I'll just learn more in the film room."
Looking at 2019, it's fair to temper expectations for Cain early on. He is working his way back to the field from a serious knee injury, after all. However, once he's physically and mentally 100 percent, there's no telling what all he can add to the Colts' receiving corps.
Cain has a blend of height (6-2), speed, route running prowess and the ability to make the spectacular catch that the Colts haven't had a depth of at receiver in awhile. By the second half of the season, we could begin to see him turn that corner and really show off what he can bring to the table.
As Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters on Wednesday as the Colts reported to camp — at first struggling to find the words to describe his excitement about Cain — he's impressed with how the young receiver has turned the devastating injury into a positive, and how it should make him better in the future.
"Actually, I can say this injury probably helped me a lot because I learned more about football, learned more about myself, and why I really want to play football," Cain said.
"Just all the little things, and having a lot of time to just think more about the game. I really think it helped me. We're all gonna see next year, but I think it's gonna help me more as a player because I learned a lot. Learned more about my teammates, learned more about my coaches, and it was just a real good, humbling experience for me."