For about two hours on Twitter Thursday, there was a lot of talk about suspended Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon. That was brought on because Florida Times-Union beat writer Ryan O'Halloran noted that he didn't think Blackmon was all that good and he was more of a No. 4 or 5 wide receiver on Jaguars Today on 1010XL with Mike Dempsey. There was talk a few weeks ago of Blackmon entering a rehab facility in California and being in the crowd for the game against the San Diego Chargers, so the discussion about him continues to arise.
Naturally, this take got Twitter going and everyone talking about how great Blackmon is. I furthered to comedy by saying I sort of agreed with O'Halloran, noting I've thought Blackmon was always way overrated by Jaguars fans because of a few games when in reality he was mediocre in most of the games he played.
Nearly half of Blackmon's yardage production came in three out of his 20 games in which he was targeted 43 times. This isn't to say Blackmon was necessarily bad in his first two seasons as a Jaguars player, but his stats were very skewed.
Regardless, if Blackmon ever returns to the NFL from suspension, you have to wonder how effective a player will be after missing virtually two NFL seasons. He can get into shape and stay in shape while out of the NFL, sure, but being in shape and being in NFL shape are entirely two different things and he's spent nearly the past two years out of the latter.
History tells us however that if Blackmon does ever come back, you shouldn't expect much of anything. Looking back at other players who've been suspended for more than a full season shows us that it's just too far removed from the game to come back and be effective, especially if you didn't really have any physically dominating traits prior.
The first person I thought of when this popped into my head was Burress, because he's a wide receiver. In 2008 Burress was suspended for the remainder of the season by the New York Giants after he was arrested for an accidental shooting. Burress eventually ended up serving jail time for the charge and was out of the NFL until the 2011 season when he was signed by the New York Jets. Burress last played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, but amassed only 48 receptions for 654 yards with nine touchdowns, used primarily as a redzone target/package player. Burress was also 31 at the time of his suspension/jail time, so he was already on the decline.
Williams was suspended four games in the 2004 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but instead of serving out the suspension he decided to retire from the NFL and go on a sabbatical, so to speak. Williams returned to the NFL for the 2005 season, serving his four game suspension, but was never really the dominant running back he was previously ever again. In the final six years of his NFL career he ran for over 800 yards just once (2009) and was mostly relegated as a platoon back.
Vick is probably the most famous example of a player missing more than a consecutive season and returning to the NFL, after he rejoined the league in 2009 after missing two seasons because of dog fighting and serving time in jail. It took nearly a full season for Vick to acclimate to the NFL again sitting on the bench and then he appeared to be "new and improved" for the 2010 season, but his career as an effective quarterback quickly derailed the following seasons as he dealt with turnovers and injuries. While he did have his best season as a quarterback the year after he returned, overall he wasn't the same guy as before.
Adam "Pacman" Jones was the only player I could find who missed multiple seasons due to suspensions, though not concurrently. Jones missed the 2007 and 2009 seasons, but after his initial missed season in 2007 he was never really the same playmaking corner that the Tennessee Titans drafted in the first round. He became relegated to being a nickel corner, and while he's carved out a niche for himself the past few seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, like most everyone else he didn't return close to the same player he was before.
The last example I was able to find was former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly. Jolly was suspended indefinitely from the NFL after the 2009 season but finally returned in 2013 to the Packers. He was a 3-4 defensive lineman previously who was emerging as a good player, but on his return was just an average rotational player and had his season ended early with a neck injury. Jolly is currently a free agent and no interest has been shown by any NFL team to sign him.
In a bit of a different case, former USC wide receiver Mike Williams attempted to challenge the NFL draft process and enter after just two years of college, but because he signed with an agent and was not allowed to enter the league, he was forced to sit out an entire season before entering the NFL Draft the following season. Williams still ended up a first round pick, but it wasn't until he was with his fourth NFL team, after sitting out two seasons, and was reunited with his college coach that he did anything of merit, but even then he was just a mediocre No. 2 receiver.
Some other examples include Tanard Jackson and Odell Thurman, but neither really made it back into the league after their initial big suspensions.
While it's possible Blackmon can still come back and still be productive, it seems a lot of people expect some dominant offensive force, which he never really was with any consistency, to be injected into the Jaguars offense. Missing a full season on it's own is a massive blow to a players career, especially when it's not due to injury and they're still with a team rehabbing and working out. Blackmon is coming off likely missing 24 straight NFL games, so to expect anything worthwhile if he ever returns is asking for a lot.