In the event that an individual goes undrafted, their goals become centered around earning a chance with one team. Once earning a chance, the player can only hope to stand out enough to stick around. One example of a player succeeding after going the undrafted route is Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Jason Cabinda.
Cabinda attended Penn State University for four years and during his college career, he would record 285 total tackles. While recording these tackles, Cabinda would rank #6 in the Big Ten for assisted tackles in 2015 and in 2017, finished #4 in the Big Ten for the same category. Coincidentally, 2015 and 2017 were the two years Cabinda played all 13 games that season.
Cabinda would also record 17.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks while at Penn State. It is clear to see Cabinda has a nose for the ball. He led the team in tackles twice (2015, 2017) and had the highest run defense grade of all Penn State players not listed as a defensive lineman.
Room for Improvement
The most significant weaknesses Cabinda has displayed are durability and pass defense. Cabinda had two healthy years and two unhealthy years at Penn State University. During the healthy years, Cabinda thrived and had two noteworthy seasons, but, as one might expect, posted less encouraging stats in seasons in which he did not play every game. A potential lack of durability can make drafting any NFL player a risk; the Raiders saw this and still decided to take a chance.
Cabinda also has questions about his pass coverage as he only recorded one interception while in college. He had pass breakups from time to time, but did not do it consistently enough to be considered a viable nickel linebacker at either level. This could make success more difficult to obtain for Cabinda as he may only see snaps during running situations, which he is very suited for.
The most major secondary factor keeping Cabinda around is who is starting over him. Currently, Vontaze Burfict looks to start at middle linebacker. But, Burfict shows difficulty staying on the field, whether it be injury or suspension, and having a capable backup is vital due to the risks Burfict brings to the team. Burfict is an incredibly talented athlete, regardless of risk, and should be pivotal in bringing Cabinda to the next level.
While the Raiders need pass defense, Cabinda will certainly help the team more than he will hurt. When trying to find a word to describe Cabinda’s game, “hungry” comes to mind. Cabinda comes downhill fast to fill holes and uses his downhill speed to blow up the opponent’s backfield.
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If the style of the NFL not changed into a passing-based league in recent years, Cabinda would be much more highly sought after. Nevertheless, due to the nature of the league, Cabinda still has work to do. Before consideration as an every-down linebacker, Cabinda needs to sharpen his instincts and feel for space.