Nick Kasa was the first of two tight ends taken by the Raiders in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Kasa, a former defensive end that is still learning the position of tight end, stands an imposing 6’6” 269 lbs.
That last sentence really sums up where Kasa is. Physically, he is very gifted – he has the height and build to compete well at the tight end position in the NFL but he’ll have a hard time excelling until he learns how to play the position well.
As you’d expect from a player that has recently changed positions, Kasa has a steep learning curve in front of him.
He’s a physical player – he gets up and into the man that he is blocking but struggles with technique in footwork, hand placement and understanding blocking angles.
In pass blocking, he had the necessary footwork to be able to keep his body between the passer and the defender. However, he tends to disengage from his man too soon which allows the defender to get back into a play out of which they should have been blocked.
He also struggles mightily with catching the ball with his hands, which limits his abilities in the passing game. Too often he guides the ball into his gut which will result in easy drops or, even worse, balls bouncing off and creating interceptions.
He has good straight line speed, but he lacks lateral explosion, which means he cannot explode to his side to get a pass that was off target to one side or the other. He looked almost comically slow trying to react to passes that were off target to his side.
On the positive, he does have very good straight-line speed for a man his size. His official Combine 40-time clocked in a full tenth of a second faster than fellow sixth round Raiders TE selection Mychal Rivera – 4.71 to 4.81 seconds, respectively.
The biggest issue appears to be explosion, which Kasa lacks. When he has the time to get up to speed, he can be very potent but he takes longer to get up to speed than I’d like – this means that he frequently cannot shake man coverage, even by a linebacker, in short to intermediate routes.
Kasa has a well-built frame which allows him to get yards after the catch when he comes down with the ball. He did a good job using his body to block out a defender from making a play on the ball and shielding the ball into his body.
He shows good awareness of the 4th down marker and makes sure he provides a safety outlet for his QB.
In run protection, he gets into his man but, again, lacks the true knowledge of how to take a player out of the play. Here is an example of his blocking strengths and weaknesses.
In the play, Colorado comes out in a two tight end set and Kasa, on the right end, is facing a pass rush from the left OLB.
At the snap, Kasa does a good job of getting out of his stance and engaging with the linebacker. Kasa's roots as a defensive player come out when he's blocking as he's a physical blocker, who likes to get in and engage with his opponent:
Kasa has pushed his player will down while still maintaining his body between the defender and, in this case, the ball-carrier. It's at this point that he shows his inexperience because if he maintained his aggression he could take the rusher completely out of the play:
However, Kasa disengages with his oppoenent momentarily, which allows the defender to turn back up field up-opposed. Because Kasa hasn't maintained the block, he's now not in a position to re-engage the rush linebacker:
Because Kasa let his man go too early, his opponent is able to get back into the play and take the ballcarrier down behind the line of scrimmage. This play started out very well, with Kasa showing the necessary quickness out of his stance and the footwork to be able to go downfield but his inexperience with the position flared and he wasn't able to finish as strongly:
Now, let's look at some of the ways Kasa can be best used. It's too early in his tight end career to say that he'll never be a good "hands" receiver but at this point it is fair to say that he doesn't know how to catch a ball well with his hands.
Like former Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, Kasa's best chance at coming down with the pass is if the pass is short and he's then able to use his athleticism to get yards after the catch.
Here's an example of how the Raiders can use him right away. In the play, Kasa is in the right end position:
Kasa runs a slant route to the first down line, four yards off the line of scrimmage. He is to be used as a safety outlet in this play and is not initially the intended receiver:
At the line, Kasa turns to grab the ball if it's thrown his way but the linebacker is on his hip and he's not feasibly open:
Kasa does a good job of then breaking away to the right to get away from the linebacker. While he lacks explosion, laterally, he is able well enough to turn and get a bit of distance in this instance. As you can see, he's running right along the line, which shows good awareness of the 1st down marker. This is 4th and 4 and the team must convert:
By the time the ball is in the air, Kasa has acheived a step on the linebacker who is defending him:
He runs forward and is hit by both the outside cornerback and the linebacker chasing him. However, he is able to break the linebacker's initial tackle by spinning away
The receiver blocks the linebacker out of the play any further and the cornerback tries to tackle Kasa but he's able to use his powerful body to get some good yards after contact:
Kasa gets up field and is finally stopped by the safety who arrives to get him out of bounds. This is not, however, until Kasa has reached the 23 yard line or so. Considering that the play started at the 43 and that the throw was only 4 yards downfield, Kasa has done well by achieving sixteen additional yards after contact:
Kasa is still very much a developmental prospect at tight end. I compared him to Darrius Heyward-Bey earlier and he has the same type of potential that Heyward-Bey did although he is much more raw.
Because he is so raw, he fell to the sixth round. I can see why the Raiders took a shot on him but it's anyone's guess as to whether he'll develop into the player the Raiders hope he can be or will fall by the wayside as so many of the tight ends drafted by Oakland in recent years.
Kasa is very different than fellow rookie Mychal Rivera. Rivera is mostly polished and is as ready to contribute in 2013 as he'll likely ever be. Like 2012 rookie Miles Burris, Rivera has a high floor but a lower ceiling than NFL teams would prefer.
Kasa is very different. He has a low floor - if he struggles to develop he could be another Richard Gordon, easily. However, if he can learn the nuances of the position, he has the physical tools to be an above average starting tight end in the NFL - one who can both block and provide a receiving outlet for whoever is lined up behind center.
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