Salvatore Cannella: A Scouting Report
The No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country committed to Auburn last week. (photo: Montgomery Advertiser)
This has been a very, very good week for Auburn football recruiting. The week started off with long-time prospect and No. 1 overall JUCO player Jarrett Stidham committing to the Tigers. Auburn followed landing Stidham with a potential weapon for the young quarterback in Salvatore Cannella.
Cannella chose Auburn over Texas and Maryland and comes to the Tigers as the No. 2 JUCO tight end in the country, thanks to a well-placed call from Stidham and an official visit to the Plains.
The 6′ 5″, 225 pound tight end comes to Auburn from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. He is ranked as a three-star athlete and will have three years of eligibility remaining.
In breaking down Cannella’s attributes, I will be referencing his film from Hudl.com.
On the hoof, Cannella has a hybrid build. He has a cut physique, virtually no fat and very good muscle tone. It would be surprising if he doesn’t add 15 pounds of muscle that will make him a perfect blend of height, speed, and physicality. He is in sort of an odd place between Kyle Davis and Chandler Cox. Obviously he is very tall, but his 225-pound build isn’t quite what you’d expect from an inline tight end. That’s because he isn’t really a tight end.
On the negative side, he is extremely slow off the snap. Since he will undoubtedly be matched up against linebackers, a quicker start will equate to an even better advantage during the play. This is a fairly easy problem to solve.
Off the line, he …
telegraphs plays badly, and he waits for the play to develop behind him before engaging defenders instead of bringing the attack to them. Since he probably will rarely be used as an inline blocker, this isn’t necessarily a major issue. However, as fans have seen, perimeter blocking is the number one thing the Auburn coaching staff uses for receivers to earn playing time. Cannella will have to learn to engage attackers on the edge and use leverage. In his time in the JUCO ranks, he never utilized leverage, instead used his long arms to shield would be attackers. The number one thing that will kill a Malzahn offensive drive is a first down loss of yards due to a missed or defeated block on the perimeter.
While he does catch with his hands, he doesn’t seem to quite have the confidence in them that perhaps he should. This leads to bobbles, especially when he finds himself open. His hand size and ball skills provide a good foundation. Full time coaching focus at the college level will make him better.
Because of his basketball background, he uses his body and arms to shield defenders, and this will lead to a lot of contested catches. It may also lead to a lot of offensive pass interference calls, and there are at least two catches in his freshman highlights that should have been offensive pass interference.
Cannella has a ton of upside. He has good speed. When he gets on the sideline, he has the speed to extend a play, though not necessarily get away. He also has the ability to do some crazy things, whether it is leaping over players, juking them, or just going through them. If he catches the ball while stationary, the play won’t be much of a gainer. If he gets it on the run, watch out.
While he may earn some pass interference calls, he is also going to come down with some contested catches that no one else could get. Not only does he had the ability to go up and get the ball, he’ll do it over a defender, or he’ll outfight him with his boxing-out mentality and physicality. His basketball ability leads to terrific footwork, especially on the stripes, and he secures the catch with his eyes, which is heartening. Lastly, his incredible range will allow him to snag balls in the back of the end zone that the defense has no chance at defending. This is where a pinpoint passer and Cannella can excel.
Everyone is quick to label football players as “the next best thing” or to make an unlikely comparison to some NFL player. That said, Cannella is very, very similar to current Seattle Seahawk, Jimmy Graham.
Obviously, the main question will be whether or not he is utilized in the Gus Malzahn offense. Just how might Cannella be used? He is a player that may do more damage without the ball than with. That is, lining him up on the outside forces defenses to either line a corner over him, potentially putting a linebacker on someone like Eli Stove, or perhaps force the defense into nickel or dime defense, allowing Auburn to run the ball downhill. If the ball goes to Cannella, Auburn would hope that the defense would line a linebacker on him or, better yet, drop a defensive lineman into coverage in five-wide sets.
In 2016 Auburn was noticeably absent in the middle of the field and middle-depth passing game. Slants were about the only way the middle of the field was exploited. A receiver like Cannella can do major damage up the seams.
All in all, Cannella has a lot of good tools, but as the memo on Malzahn might say, it is up to the coach to use his players appropriately.