Looking Beyond the Numbers: Nick Kasa

April 21st, 2013

Nick Kasa may be the most intriguing tight end prospect in the 2013 NFL Draft. (photo: dailycamera.com)

DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister

With only 13 games of experience under his belt at the tight end position, Nick Kasa is one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire 2013 NFL Draft class.  Kasa’s combination of speed, physicality after the catch, size, and strength as a blocker make him a very enticing option for a tight end-needy team on the draft’s third day.  In this piece, I am going to take a look at a few plays and point out some encouraging signs for Kasa’s development, along with some signs that Kasa still has plenty of room to grow.

USC 2012

In the above photo, Nick Kasa is lined up as the left in-line tight end.  USC is in man-to-man coverage with a single-high safety over the top (Cover 1).

As Kasa releases off the line of scrimmage, he first gives a head fake to the outside before releasing vertically up the field.  The middle linebacker (#55) slides over to cover Kasa as the ball is snapped.  As evidenced in the photo, Kasa eats up the linebacker’s cushion in a hurry.

As Kasa breaks to the post, he does something that would not be expected of a player with so little experience at the tight end position.  After pushing vertically, he “steps on the defender’s toes”.  This technique is a subtlety of route running that often goes ignored, but it can go a long way in allowing a receiver to create separation.

After “stepping on the defender’s toes”, Kasa accelerates out of his break and gains a few steps of separation from the defender.  Had the quarterback not been under pressure, he may have been able to fit a pass in the window between Kasa and the single-high safety.  The play resulted in a sack, but Nick Kasa undoubtedly did his job on the play.

Nick Kasa is again lined up as the left in-line tight end.  However, on this play, the defense looks to be in a three-deep zone.  The cornerback at the top of the screen has his eyes to the inside, facing the quarterback, which gives away that the defense is running a form of zone coverage.

As Kasa releases from the line of scrimmage, he runs toward the middle of the defense, looking for a place to sit down between the four underneath defenders.  The route that Kasa runs is called a “stick” route.  In the five games I viewed, Kasa ran this route more than any other route.

As the route intends, Kasa successfully finds the open space between the underneath defenders and sits down.  He could have ran a little further to get even more open, but the space he found was sufficient.

From this angle, you can see that there is a large amount of space between the two defenders.  Also, rather than sitting down for an extra half-second, Kasa seems to get antsy.  He starts to move quickly back toward the nearest defender just as the quarterback throws the ball.  Had Kasa stayed in his initial position (where he was open), he would have been able to catch the pass, turn upfield, and possibly use his physicality after the catch to gain some extra yardage.

As you can see, the pass is thrown to where Kasa initially sat down.  Adding insult to injury, Kasa also allowed the defender to put a big hit on him just as the ball hit his hand.

Included this final shot to give evidence that the pass was indeed incomplete and Kasa did not make a spectacular one-handed catch on the play.

Oregon 2012

On this particular play, Nick Kasa is lined up in the right slot.  You can tell that the defense is going to be in zone coverage by looking at the cornerback at the bottom of the screen.  Again, the cornerback is facing to the inside with his eyes on the quarterback.  The single-high safety gives away that the coverage will most likely be a three-deep zone.

As the ball is snapped, Kasa releases to the inside and pushes upfield vertically and threatens the seam of the defense between the underneath defenders and the single-high safety.  With no other receivers running underneath routes, the defenders retreat.  Their goal on the play is to keep Kasa in front of them.

Once Kasa pushes vertically ten yards, he plants his right foot in the ground and cuts across the field, running away from the nearest defender to the outside.  The route on the play looks to be a variation of the “post” route.

Once Kasa crosses the inside defender’s face, he finds a void between the flats defender and the hook defender.  At the time of this photo, the quarterback has already anticipated the window and thrown the ball.

The end zone angle gives a great view of Kasa making the catch just before taking a hit by both defenders on the play.  This may just look like an ordinary 16-yard catch to the casual football fan, but I am very impressed with the toughness, savvy, and fluidity that Kasa showed on the play.

Conclusion

All in all, I expect Nick Kasa to be selected at some point during the draft’s third day.  There is no doubt that Kasa’s vertical speed, size, and ability to attack the seam of a defense will be attractive to offensive coaches around the NFL.  The fact that Kasa is a strong blocker in the run game is an added bonus.  With the way that NFL offenses are utilizing tight ends with Kasa’s skills in today’s game, expect him to have plenty of suitors come next Saturday.

If you are interested in Justin Higdon’s prospect profile of Nick Kasa, please click here.

Nick Kasa Scouting Notes

Prototypical size for the position at 6’6”, 269 lbs.

Solid length for a TE with 32 7/8” arms.

Small hands.  Only 9 1/8”.

Shows very good speed for a tight end once he gets going, but takes a few steps to get to that point.

Consistently fights for yards after the catch.

Shows soft hands.  Does not look to be a body catcher.

Shows the versatility to line up in-line, in the slot, and as an h-back.

Shows a good anchor as a pass blocker.

Does a good job of using his physicality to attempt to create separation when running routes.

Shows impressive strength and effort as a run blocker.  Can seal the edge and move the defender at times.

Not very smooth route runner.  Very raw.

Will allow the defender to get into him before he can get his hands on the defender at times.  Needs to extend his arms and use his length to push the defender back more consistently.

Has only played the position full-time for a little over one full season.

Oregon 2012:

Makes a catch (body catch) in traffic down the field.

Showing good effort and strength at the POA as a blocker.

Catches a short stick route from left slot.  Fights for YAC and gains a few.

Open down the seam, but does not get the ball thrown to him.

Getting open often, but QB is looking elsewhere.

Blocking on GL.  Couldn’t move defender at all because he didn’t keep his base wide enough and stay low enough.

Utah 2012:

Chased down a defender and made a tackle after an interception.

Doing a good job of run blocking.

Gets open on a corner route in the red zone.  Would’ve been a TD if QB threw it earlier and didn’t underthrow Kasa.

Lines up as right in-line TE, runs a stick route, opens up to outside away from LB, and makes the catch as soon as he quickly turns his head around when he comes out of his break.  Fights for extra yards but only gains a couple before going down.

Runs a corner route from right slot (3rd receiver) and catches the ball between the safety and corner in the 3-deep zone inside the 5-yard line.  Made the catch and then took a hit right after making it.  Good concentration.

Showing very good strength at the POA as a run blocker.

Runs a stick route, sits down in the zone between LBs and catches the ball before getting hit and taken down.

Runs a curl route, catches the ball, and turns upfield for a nice gain.

Catches ball on a stick route, fights for extra yardage, and gets the ball ripped out of his hands.  Play was called incomplete pass.

Runs an out route and gains some separation with a head fake.  Jumps up and catches the ball above his head.  Then fights hard for, and gains, extra yardage as three defenders try to bring him down.  First down.  Great play.

USC 2012:

Runs a really nice post route and gains separation from the defender, but the QB doesn’t go his direction.

Runs another post route and accelerates past the defender, gaining separation.  QB doesn’t throw it his way.

Runs a stick route and finds the wide open place in the middle of the field.  Catches the ball and gains about five yards after the catch.

Does a great job of blocking down the field after a teammate catches a pass.

Catches a pass behind the LOS and gets tackled just after catching the ball.

Stopped watching after USC pulled most of the defensive starters in the third quarter when score was 40-6 USC. Final score was 50-6 USC.

Washington State 2012:

Lined up as left in-line TE, comes off the LOS and gets a piece of the 5-technique, allowing the RB to get past him.

Lind up as left in-line TE, comes off LOS, blocks OLB out of the picture.  Great showing on the play as a blocker.

Showing inconsistency as a blocker.

Runs a stick route, catches the pass, breaks a tackle, and gains a few extra yards for the first down.

Lined up as #2 receiver to right, runs a curl route, but realizes he’s covered by the LB.  He finds the open spot then keeps running as the QB scrambles to his left.  The QB throws Casa a pass and he gets hit as he’s tucking the ball away.  The ball goes up in the air and then hits the ground.

Lines up as right in-line TE, runs a stick route, catches the pass even though the LB is tied to his hip.  First down.

Lined up as #3 receiver to right, runs a slant route and gets his head around late.  The pass was off target and hit him in the hand way behind him.  Incomplete.

Lined up as #3 receiver to right, runs a seam route and beats the coverage while splitting the safeties.  Play resulted in a 70-yard TD.  Casa showed impressive breakaway speed on the play.

Lined up as right in-line TE, fires out and engages long enough with the OLB to create a lane for the RB to turn the corner.  Play resulted in an 80-yard TD.

Arizona State 2012:

Showing a good anchor in pass protection early in the game.  Not giving up any ground vs. bull rushes.

Lined up as right in-line TE, runs a stick route, but realizes he’s covered.  Casa then turns and accelerates across the field while creating a lot of separation from the LB that was covering him.  The QB throws him the ball and he catches it.  He breaks an arm tackle and runs down the sideline before being tackled by the safety.  Play went for a 23-yard gain.

Lined up as left in-line TE, Casa runs a seam route and splits the safeties.  He catches the pass near the 3-yard line and runs in to the end zone untouched for the 20-yard TD.

Lined up as left in-line TE, Casa takes on the OLB and seals the edge.  The RB turns the corner and gains a 1st down on the play.

Lined up as right in-line TE, Casa runs a 5-yard out route.  He catches the pass between two defenders and fights for extra yardage.  Play results in a 9-yard gain.

Lined up as right in-line TE, Casa steps inside like he’s running a shallow cross at the snap.  He then explodes straight up the field and rips up through the LB’s chest.  This knocks the LB off balance and creates a ton of separation for Casa.  He catches the pass and takes a hit from the safety shortly after.  Play resulted in a 20-yard gain.

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, 2013 Tight End Prospects, Colorado, Nick Kasa, Oregon, Prospect Profile, USC, X's and O's

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