Colts: Will Julian Blackmon be Indy’s defensive X-factor in 2021?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 20: Julian Blackmon #32 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 20: Julian Blackmon #32 of the Indianapolis Colts (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The Indianapolis Colts’ defense emerged as one of the best units in the league in 2020, which is impressive given how many young players played prominent roles.

With Matt Eberlfus entering his fourth year as defensive coordinator, the group will be expected to take another collective stride in 2021. Under his tutelage, the Colts always seem to have an overlooked or underrated player step up in a big way.

That got us speculating about potential X-factor candidates. When you consider that Indianapolis’ defense is powered by their loaded front seven, logic would suggest that player should feature somewhere in the secondary, right?

Bleacher Report certainly seems to think so. In a recent article that listed X-factors for all 32 teams next campaign, Julian Blackmon was given the nod for Indy. And you know what? They might be onto something.

Julian Blackmon is going to be huge for the Colts in 2021.

Needless to say that Bleacher Report’s analysis isn’t always spot on, as Colts fans will recall them listing Darius Leonard as the worst pick of the 2018 draft. However, Blackmon is an excellent shout as a potential difference-maker for Indy.

Could an argument be had for the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Kwity Paye, Rock Ya-Sin and Bobby Okekere? No doubt, but let’s defend Blackmon’s case, shall we?

Though Blackmon faded down the stretch of his rookie year — he later admitted that was attributed to weakened leg strength stemming from ACL surgery — he very much solidified the back end of the Colts’ secondary alongside Khari Willis.

There’s a reason Blackmon’s name was floating around in Defensive Rookie of the Year conversations before Chase Young separated himself from the rest of the pack. We’re simply talking about a player who has a knack for stepping up in big moments.

The 2020 third-round selection also has rare versatility for a rookie DB, as he’s capable of dropping into the box, working the slot, or acting as a ball hawk. In 15 games, he logged 42 tackles (three for loss), two interceptions, six pass breakups and a forced fumble.

How encouraged were the Colts by Blackmon’s rookie year? Well, they didn’t exactly bring in anybody who could threaten his starting job after drafting Shawn Davis in the fifth round and signing veteran Sean Davis about a month into free agency.

Whenever the Colts’ cornerbacks got toasted in coverage, it seemed like Blackmon was always there to bail them out last season. If a sophomore slump is looming for the budding 22-year-old, Indy’s secondary could struggle, and that’s exactly what makes him their defensive X-factor.