How does third round pick Julian Blackmon fit into the Indianapolis Colts secondary?
The Indianapolis Colts had some surprise selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, but the biggest came in the third round. After trading back 10 spots, general manager Chris Ballard and company selected Utah safety Julian Blackmon at 85 overall.
Blackmon played corner for his first three seasons as a Utah Ute, and racked up five interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 98 tackles. The shift to safety for his senior year was actually Blackmon’s idea, and it was huge for the Utah defense. Blackmon put on a show in 2019 at safety, picking off four passes, along with racking up four passes defensed, 60 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. That season earned him First Team All Pac-12 honors as a safety.
Unfortunately, Blackmon wasn’t able to finish his senior season, as he tore his ACL during the Pac 12 Championship game. That injury forced him to miss on-field practices and drills at the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, respectively. At the end of the day, that injury didn’t matter too much to Ballard and the Colts, as he wound up being drafted on day two.
So what does Blackmon bring to the table, and how does he fit in Matt Eberflus’ defense? Let’s take a look in the latest Colts film room from the 2020 NFL Draft (While you’re here, if you missed the ones on Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr., check those out!).
What Blackmon Does Well
Here, we will look at some traits that Blackmon brings to the table and highlight his positive ones from his 2019 film. Let’s dive on in!
One of the traits most often associated with Julian Blackmon is his tackling ability. Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley talked about Blackmon during the 2020 draft process, and described him as “the best tackler I’ve ever coached”. This shows up from every game of his 2019 season.
Safety is a tough position to play, and with everything being faster in the NFL, it’s important to be a reliable tackler in space as the last line of defense. Here, Blackmon diagnoses things quickly and trips up the receiver in space to limit him after the catch.
This play by Blackmon comes from sound film study and recognition skills. Oregon sends a man in motion pre-snap, something their offense loves to do. It’s also clear that Utah is in man coverage, and the man in motion is passed off to Blackmon in coverage. The Ducks also love the screen game, and here Blackmon quickly processes what’s going on and flies downhill to make a great play at the line of scrimmage.
This is another great play by Blackmon to fly downhill. Here, Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon sees man coverage across the board, and the instant the defender on the edge blitzes, Gordon believes he has his running back on an easy read for a score. Instead, Blackmon accelerates quickly and shows great fundamentals to finish off the play and keep the Cougars out of the end zone.
Last clip for his tackling here, and it’s a good one. Once again, Utah finds themselves backed up on their own end zone, and Wazzu goes empty. They run a form of “Mesh”, with short crossing routes to cause confusion in traffic. Blackmon navigates through traffic well and makes a good play to finish the tackle while slipping down.
Another important part of the game for a safety on the back end of a defense is his ability to cover ground quickly and close on the ball, as well as creating turnovers and breaking up passes. Blackmon has great potential in both areas.
It’s tougher to see on this first clip, but here, the BYU quarterback breaks contain and throws up a ball to what he believes is a receiver in single coverage. However, Blackmon reads it and makes a great break on the ball to make a play and break the pass up.
This is such a fun angle of this play. Gordon sees his receiver pass the flat-footed Utah defender up the middle of the field and believes he’s got a touchdown. Instead, Blackmon closes with great acceleration and breaks up the pass. This is a great example of his range.
Blackmon gets a little out of position on this play as he’s looking to come up and make a tackle when USC’s quarterback starts to scramble, but loses a receiver working deep. His range shows up here along with his ball skills to retreat quickly and make a play.
The Colts will show a lot of two deep looks like this one, where Blackmon will be in charge of half of the field. Here, he comes up to make a play and the ball ends up his hands. Blackmon is opportunistic from there and returns this for a score!
Where Can Blackmon Improve?
Every prospect has things to work on, and it’s important to identify these to find areas in order to get a full picture as they transition into the NFL.
The biggest transition for Blackmon making the move to safety is being able to process everything going on in front of him. As a corner, you’re often responsible for one guy in man coverage or a single area in zone. As a safety playing single high (or in a deep half), you’re responsible for recognizing route combinations in front of you and rolling coverage over to receivers who start working vertically. Let’s look at a couple clips.
This isn’t a bad rep here from Julian Blackmon, as he sees the wide receiver looking to win down the field and transitions quickly from his backpedal to get into a good position to make a play. However, with speedier receivers at the next level, he will have to diagnose this a little bit quicker.
This clip, funny enough, is against his new teammate Michael Pittman Jr. Here, Blackmon gets caught trying to squat on a quick-hitting route, and it results in him getting beat vertically down the field. Luckily Blackmon has the ability to accelerate quickly and run down Pittman Jr. to prevent a score. However, he needs to work on his processing and angles here.
Indianapolis Colts Fit/Outlook
It may be some time before Julian Blackmon gets playing time with the Indianapolis Colts, mostly because of the lack of news regarding his ACL tear. Both Malik Hooker and Khari Willis are currently projected to start for the Colts, but Blackmon could get on the field in sub-packages. His range, ball skills, and reliability as a tackler could result in him getting some reps at the nickel spot and even in the box because of his prowess coming downhill to make plays near the line of scrimmage.
He has some work to do as far as processing and recognition in coverage, but his experience working in single high and deep half alignments is a good sign to point his developmental upside in the right direction. Having a player who can create turnovers and make plays at the catch point is important, and that’s clearly valuable to Ballard. It will be interesting to see his deployment in year one and how he grows at the safety spot.