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Dylan Cantrell Primed For Breakout Campaign

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When former Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyrell Williams signed a wealthy free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders, it left an apparent hole on the remaining depth chart. Williams was a consistent, effective producer over the past three seasons with the Chargers, racking up 2,440 yards and 16 touchdowns over that time. One aspect that Williams brought to the offense was his size and length at 6’4 and 205 pounds. Thriving in the intermediate and deep portions of the field, Williams fit in beautifully next to the polished route runner Keenan Allen.

The Chargers have been planning for Tyrell Williams departure for a few years, as Mike Williams will be entering his third season after a breakout sophomore campaign. Mike Williams is under team control for the next three seasons, as is Dylan Cantrell.

Looking at the Chargers depth chart, Allen is the alpha. With Mike Williams presence as a strong WR2 and Travis Benjamin potentially returning from injury to man the slot, the top 3 targets could be as good as any throughout the NFL. But don’t sleep on the potential contribution from Cantrell.

If the Chargers were to look into cutting ties with Benjamin, they could save over $5 million. If Los Angeles chooses to retain Benjamin’s services, still expect Cantrell to get his fair share of looks.

Early on in training camp last season, Cantrell was taking reps in four wide receiver sets. That trend should continue this season, and was an encouraging start to the 6th-rounder’s career.

Cantrell has the skill set to play from multiple alignments, and took reps all the way from the boundary to an H-back position while at Texas Tech. Before even diving into the film, you know that Cantrell compares well to Tyrell Williams from a size and athleticism combination. At 6’3 and 226 pounds, Cantrell ran his 40-yard dash in the 4.4s as a prospect. He finished in the 90th percentile or better (among wide receivers) in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and short shuttle. That type of all-around agility isn’t normally seen from wide receivers his size, let along by late-round draft picks.

Cantrell was regarded a bit lower by the NFL than his athletic profile would suggest for a number of reasons. On tape, his straight-line speed was only average for the position. He played second-fiddle to dynamic slot threat Keke Coutee, and didn’t dominate from a production standpoint compared to other receivers in his conference. Despite that, I grew fond of Cantrell as a prospect because of the overwhelming number of positive traits compared to negatives.

Fitting into the Chargers offensive scheme, Cantrell should be able to carve out a role because of his versatility. Playing out along the boundary, he showed the necessary body control to win on the vertical plane and finish outside of the numbers. When coupled with his play strength and broad frame, he has potential as a possession receiver.

In the red zone, Cantrell is a con-artist in how he sells routes with his entire frame. The reason he finds success with these routes in close quarters is his plus agility for his size, evidenced by those previously mentioned athletic tests.

Cantrell’s size would suggest that he has the potential to be an excellent blocker, but his technique is the reason he’s already successful in this area. With a strong, sound base, Cantrell can clear space for ball carriers in the box. He can operate and fill in as a “flex” style tight end, or thrive on bunch receiver sets.

Expecting a seamless transition from a productive veteran to Cantrell, who will essentially be a rookie, is a bit too unrealistic. However, Cantrell has potential to eventually fill the void left by Tyrell Williams, and the Chargers are high on his natural ability. He’s going to get the first opportunity to establish himself as the front-runner for the position, and I’m willing to bet that he takes a hold of it and never lets go.