One of the most common players in the 2012 NFL Draft I'm asked about by Jacksonville Jaguars fans in regards to if the Jaguars will draft them is Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. Now, if you read Big Cat Country on a regular basis, you know I've long not been a fan of Blackmon with the No. 7 overall pick. This is often construed as me "hating" Blackmon or not thinking he's a good football player. That couldn't be further from the truth, because I do think Blackmon was a wonderful college player, but I'm weary as to how much of his game translates to the NFL.
I personally don't think that Blackmon is worthy of a Top 10 pick, but I also don't think any wide receiver in this class is worthy of a Top 10 pick, so it's not really anything against Blackmon in particular. I've been going back and watching some game cut ups of some players and I was watching one on Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson, and it just happened to be Johnson's 2011 game against Oklahoma State, in which the Cyclones upset the Cowboys and Blackmon was held to one of his lowest outputs in recent years.
Here is a game cut up of Leonard Johnson, who predominantly covers Justin Blackmon the majority of the game.
Now, Leonard Johnson is a smaller (5-foot-10, 196 pounds) cornerback who's physical and excels in press man. He's not fast, but he's physical and will jam receivers at the line of scrimmage when he's allowed to play in press man coverage. Currently, Johnson is projected to be a nickel/inside corner in the NFL and a late-round draft pick. Blackmon, when facing Johnson in press man coverage, struggled to break free and separate from Johnson which limited the majority of his catches to come from come back routes or just quick crossing patterns.
Blackmon did have two nice longer catches against Johnson, one coming from a perfectly placed pass by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and another that was a good adjustment and catch by Blackmon. Both instances however, Blackmon wasn't really "open" and didn't separate from Johnson.
On the touchdown pass, Blackmon is running a route down the sideline and Johnson positions himself on the inside using the sideline to limit where Blackmon can cut. Weeden drops in a perfectly placed pass on Blackmon's right shoulder and Blackmon catches the ball (with his hands) and cuts in while Johnson's back is turned for the easy touchdown. Blackmon doesn't create any separation on the route, but he adjust well to the smartly placed pass by Weeden. You can skip to the particular catch in the video here.
The other nice catch that Blackmon had, his longest of the game, was a 28-yard catch where Blackmon actually plucked the ball out of the air. He was once again facing Johnson in press man coverage and runs what looks like a seven-route (corner route) and hauls the pass in as he goes out of bounds. Blackmon brought in the pass and Weeden put the ball where it needed to be, but Blackmon still didn't really create much separation wise from the much slower (at least, 40-time wise) Johnson. Still, Blackmon hauled in the pass for the chunk of yardage. You can skip to the particular catch in the video here.
Now, those were some of the good plays by Blackmon, but now we will look at some of the plays where he struggled to get open and let Johnson stay in his hip pocket. In the play, the pass isn't to Blackmon, but if it was it would have had to have been perfectly placed by Weeden, as Johnson is just blanketing him on the route. You can skip to the particular catch in the video here.
Just a few plays later, Weeden tried to hit Blackmon deep again on the play, but Johnson once again had Blackmon absolutely blanketed on the play and Weeden was forced to over throw the ball. Johnson again lined up in press man coverage and just stayed in Blackmon's hip pocket the entire route. This play in particular is part of why I'm not buying Blackmon being "fast" on his 40-yard dash time from his Pro Day. If you watch the play, Blackmon just can't get free of Johnson. Johnson isn't a fast player either and ran a dreadful 4.73 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
This is just one game for Blackmon, but it's more indicative of what he's going to face in regards to NFL defenses as it's one of the few times he face actual "man" coverage while at Oklahoma State. If you watch the cut up in it's entirety you'll see where Blackmon does most of his damage, which is underneath eating up 7-yard cushions with quick passing. To me, that's just not what I want out of a receiver I'm picking in the Top 10. I want a guy who can threaten from the entire route tree, not just the underneath stuff.
He's going to play against more man coverage and against bigger, faster, and better cornerbacks than Leonard Johnson in the NFL and I believe he's going to struggle to be that "No. 1 wide receiver" than people have made him out to be. I think he'll be an alright wide receiver in the NFL, but as a complimentary receiver. I hate comparing him to Michael Crabtree, because it seems so lazy and easy to draw the comparison. The fact of the matter is though, their games and skill set are very, very similar and we see what Crabtree has to do in the NFL. Eat up cushion and underneath routes, doesn't challenge vertically at all.
If the Jaguars were picking more in the 15-20 range, then someone like Justin Blackmon would make perfect sense, but they're not. They're picking in the Top 10 and if you're picking a wide receiver in the Top 10, they need to be in that "elite" receiver mold because they're going to be your go-to guy. You want to get that "X" receiver not the "Z" receiver. I'm not sure Blackmon can be that go-to guy, and his performance against press man is just one of the reasons I feel that way.