Two years ago, Oklahoma State produced the phenomenal talent known as Dez Bryant, and they’re back at it this year with wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon’s not as big, and likely isn’t as fast as Bryant, but he has a significant amount of talent, and he could come off the board quicker than his former teammate. Blackmon is viewed as the top wide receiver by many, and it’s hard to argue with the tape.
When it comes to evaluating draft prospects, it all starts with the size and weight. If their size doesn’t suit the position, it can significantly knock their draft stock down. Fortunately for Blackmon, he checks in just fine. Blackmon was measured at 6′ 7/8″ at the Combine and 207 pounds. While this is not the great stature that is often seen with top picks at the position, he plays a lot bigger than his size because of his vertical ability and arm length.
The scheme in which Blackmon operated in was one that has drawn criticism in the past for producing astronomical statistics and making players appear to be far better than their true talent level. However, while the majority of the criticism is geared toward the quarterbacks in the Air Raid system, the pass catchers have had some success, such as receivers Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree. The Air Raid scheme is heavily based on quick, short passes that horizontally stretch the defense through spread formations, which leads me to my next point.
Blackmon was mainly asked to run short pass routes, such as slants and screens, but he still showed some ability to run other routes like comebacks, corners and seam-reads. These routes are important to note because the route tree is generally bigger in the NFL, and the receivers have to run the latter routes more often.
Blackmon has also shown that he has the foot quickness to win battles at the line of scrimmage and separate when breaking off his route, skills that he used against Stanford during the Fiesta Bowl when he ran a 15-yard Dig route that broke back toward the middle of the field.
Arguably one of the biggest questions about Blackmon is his speed. Just how fast is he? He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but on tape–which is most important–he doesn’t show elite speed while running down the sideline. However, he has demonstrated very good acceleration on numerous occasions, which allows him to run away from defenders.
While speed tends to be overrated, it’s still a factor in controlling the defense and how they play the offense. A fast receiver can threaten the defense vertically, thus forcing the secondary to respect the possibility of a deep ball and creating space for the other pass catchers.
By far the most important aspect of a receiver, the ability to not only catch the ball but catch it consistently is key to the success of a player at the next level. Blackmon does an exceptional job, as he’s able to catch the ball away from his body and snatch it when it’s in flight, and he also attacks the ball aggressively down hill.
He displays very good concentration when the ball is coming in his direction, and he can adjust to the ball with his quality body control. I believe that his hands are the strength of Blackmon’s game along with his ability to pick up yards after the catch.
Yards After Catch
Picking up yards after the catch has never been more important in the NFL. It showed this season, with teams like the Patriots and Saints going far into the playoffs because of it.
Blackmon’s lower-body strength, particularly in his thighs and ankles, stands out once he catches the ball, as he’s able to break would-be tacklers and pick up yards after the catch. He also shows very good balance in the process, which compares favorably to Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The last characteristic I look for in a wide receiver is his blocking ability. It doesn’t always have to be about technique in this department, especially in college, but as long as there’s intensity and willingness, I’m satisfied. This is an area in which I believe Blackmon is, at times, mis-evaluated by some because of what he shows on tape in comparison to what’s asked of him. He doesn’t always appear to execute blocks when the play is away from him, but that’s part of his coaching.
On the other hand, when the play is in his direction, he has shown that he’s willing to block, but not consistently. He’s got a strong lower body, as previously mentioned, and he’s able to latch on to defensive backs in the process of driving them toward the sideline to help create an alley for the ball carrier to run through.
Blackmon dominated the college scene the last couple of years with overpowering strength that culminated in eye-popping touchdowns. While he has received some criticism (and deservedly so) recently for his lack of performance at the NFL Combine, his tape from the last two seasons shows that he’s a top-tier prospect and one of the top, if not the top, at his position, and he’ll likely be selected in the top 10.