Here’s why Colts safety Julian Blackmon should win Defensive Rookie of the Year this season.
With each passing week, it’s become increasingly clear that the Indianapolis Colts have a star on their hands in rookie safety Julian Blackmon, who’s been nothing short of a godsend at the back end of the secondary since being inserted into the starting lineup back in Week 2.
After being limited to less than 65% of the defensive snaps in the first two games to start the campaign, Blackmon has played the lion’s share of the snap count (96%) over the last three weeks, quelling concerns about whether he was fully recovered from his ACL injury in the process.
We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, as there are still 10 games remaining on the schedule, but folks shouldn’t sleep on the fact that there’s a case to be made for Blackmon taking home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors this season.
For starters, Blackmon (through six weeks) is Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded rookie safety with a stellar 74.1 mark. While the 2020 third-round pick was tremendous across his four years at Utah and entered the league with high expectations for himself, that type of success is literally unheard of for a rookie safety so early in his career.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that he’s already playing like one of the best safeties in the league, ranking as PFF’s 10th-highest-graded safety among 83 (!) qualifiers. Keep in mind that Blackmon didn’t become a full-time starter until Week 3, so he’s garnering all of this recognition and praise with really just three complete games under his belt.
For the season, the 22-year-old stud is currently tied for first among rookies in interceptions (two) and first among rookie safeties in passes defended (six). Pass rushers generally have the most appeal to voters, but Washington first-rounder Chase Young, for as great as he’s been, missed most of Week 3 and all of Week 4 and is questionable for Sunday’s game against Dallas. If he’s forced to miss another game or two, voters should undoubtedly set their sights on rookies who played closer to a full 16-game slate.
In our unbiased opinion, Blackmon’s biggest competition for the award include Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen, Bears CB Jaylon Johnson, and Buccaneers DB Antoine Winfield Jr. For the sake of argument, let’s take a closer look at their respective stats.
- Queen: 44 tackles, two sacks, five QB hits, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and a 42.0 grade from PFF.
- Johnson: 21 tackles, a rookie-leading nine passes defended and a 53.1 grade from PFF.
- Winfield: 35 tackles, three passes defended, two sacks, three QB hits, one forced fumble and a 69.7 grade from PFF.
As evidenced by their PFF grades, those numbers prove that you should never look solely at statistics for a full scope of a player’s performance. All told, the latter might have the nod over that trio (and potentially Blackmon) because of his versatility. Through six games, Tampa has deployed Winfield at both the free and strong safety positions, as well as in a slot corner role and as a hybrid blitzer.
However, when you consider that Blackmon has been one of the top performers on one of the best defenses in the NFL — which lost starting safety Malik Hooker for the season back in Week 2, by the way — this could be his award to lose. If you told us that would be the case when the Colts drafted him back in April, we probably would have laughed in your face.