Draft: Cornerback Generates Patriot Interest

He's considered one of the best corners available in the 2008 NFL Draft, and he's firmly in the Scout's sights after the Combine. DB Antoine Cason has stirred debate over which teams have him on their boards. PI is hearing that Cason could be a good fit in New England, especially having family members with NFL experience. Here's a closer look at a potential future Patriot.

With five senior season interceptions for 164 return yards and two touchdowns, Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason knows how to make something out of an opportunity. What makes Cason different in the larger sense is how he has used a family tragedy as motivation to make a difference in his community.

Family Ties

Cason's father, Wendell, played defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons in the mid-1980s. Cason is the cousin of Ken-yon Rambo, the former Cowboys and Jets receiver, and cousin Aveion currently plays for the Detroit Lions. But it was his grandfather, Royce Rambo, who may have had as big an impact on the young man as anyone in his family.

When the elder Rambo lost his battle to cancer last February, Cason took it upon himself to start the 'Cason Cares' foundation with teammate Matt Brooks. The duo started selling rubber wristbands for $3 to raise money for cancer research and honor family members lost to the disease. They raised about $7,000 and presented a check to the American Cancer Society in December.

California wide receiver DeSean Jackson, right, tries to tackle Arizona cornerback Antoine Cason after Cason intercepted a pass intended for Jackson in the first quarter of a college football game Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

At the Scouting Combine, Cason talked about the motivation behind the foundation. "My grandfather was a role model to me," he said. "He’s done everything for the family. My senior year I wanted to do something to honor him for what he’s done for me and my family. And I sold the bracelets, and all the money went to the American Cancer Society. Matthew and I raised about $7,000 in two months just between the two of us. It was a great experience for me to see the foundation side, how the business side works, in college, being a young man growing up trying to do some things that don’t benefit me.

"Everything is now about 'me'. 'Me, me, me', all the time. I wanted to give back and do something positive, and pretty much everyone can relate to (that).” Cason said that he will definitely continue (and possibly expand upon) his charitable work in the pros.

He also revealed that charity isn't always easy in the NCAA. Cason and Brooks had to get approval to start the charity so that they wouldn't run afoul of strict no-money policies for college athletes.

“The idea came about in June, and we didn’t get it going until September. The NCAA and the Pac-10 kind of turned it down because my name was on it. I guess they thought it was personal gain, I’m not sure. But there was no personal gain involved. We had to write letters to the NCAA and the Pac-10, that this was nothing (about) me, this was something I wanted to do to give back. It was a long, long process.

"It was a lot of hours. I had to wake up, weights at 8, school all day practice and then I would from that and we would go over things and I wouldn’t get home until 9:30. It was a long process, and I had to stay focused on what I was trying to accomplish in football, as well as school. And then get that done.”

Cason talked about how other family members have helped him; this time, in a more tangible football sense -- he's been getting pro-level coaching from his father for a long time, and engaging in occasional workouts with cousin Ken-yon for years.

“That’s benefited me greatly," Cason said of his father's influence. "That’s a thing a lot of people don’t realize, that I’ve had coaching since high school from someone who’s played at the highest level of football. He taught me a lot of things from high school to college to now. It’s been a blessing for me to have him.”

Field of Dreams

How does all that personal quality and character translate on the field? Besides his impressive numbers, Cason has been a model of reliability; he started each one of the 46 games he played in his collegiate career. And while he's not regarded at a top-end speed player at 6'1" and 190 pounds, he has always had enough functional football quickness to get the job done in his ability to mirror receivers and jump routes.

“No, it doesn’t bother me at all," he said, when asked if questions about his track speed (timed in the mid-4.4s to the mid-4.5s through his college days) trouble him. "I’m a competitor. I’m ready to prove myself every time I step out on a national platform or just playing anything. I’m ready to prove myself again.”

He's been proving himself from day one -- in Arizona, that was the opening game of the 2004 season, where he was put in at left cornerback. At the end of that first season, he'd racked up 70 tackles (54 solo), four interceptions, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles. The left cornerback position is where he's been ever since.

Cason's stats have been remarkably stable from season to season, though he displayed a marked increase in pass deflections in 2007 with 14, up from seven the year before. His five interceptions were a career high, and the senior picks all came against conference rivals -- Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, USC, and Washington.

He also started returning punts in 2007, averaging 10 yards per return on 27 chances with two return touchdowns. Cason became the third Thorpe Award winner in Pac-10 history, and the only award winner never to have a winning season or go to a bowl game. "That tells you a lot about him,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said of Cason in early February. "Usually, those awards go to teams that have won a bunch, but he just stands out in so many ways.”

Cason had opportunities to leave after his junior year, but there were goals in mind. “There were just some things I wanted to accomplish in college. I wanted to win the Jim Thorpe award, which I did this year; be a consensus All-American, I achieved that; and I wanted to be the best cornerback in college football. I wasn’t content coming out as a junior and not be the best. I’ve always wanted to be the best and worked to be the best.”

He may not be leaving as the best cornerback in the college game -- you will generally hear the names Jenkins, McKelvin and Rogers-Cromartie before his -- but there's no doubt that Antoine Cason has established a foundation for success.

Both on and off the field.

PLAYER PROFILE (Courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com)

NFLDS' comparison is to Baltimore's Chris McAlister…Has a developing frame with room to carry additional bulk with no loss in quickness...Possesses the long arms and reach, along with very good timing and leaping ability, to get to a pass at its highest point...Displays natural hands to make the interception and demonstrates good vision and running stride to gain valid yardage after the interception...Runs with a normal stride and shows steady acceleration to reach his top speed...Smart, instinctive player who has demonstrated an ability to learn and retain information, demonstrating the ability to make quick reads and react to the action in front of him...Hard worker in the offseason training program and has improved his overall quickness while competing on the school's track team as a sprinter.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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