This week’s edition of What’s Next isn’t so much about what’s coming as about how Justin Blackmon’s experience with the NFL Combine projects to this year’s NFL combine. Like Zain Gowani has been saying, there are workout warriors that can move up due to their combine results and then there are players who can slide. Thinking back to the 2012 NFL Draft, it seemed that even Blackmon, the consensus top receiver, may take a slide.
Never known for a quick first step, Blackmon’s refusal to run the 40 yard dash at the combine made for some interesting news. Here’s NFL.com’s analysis of Blackmon’s weaknesses:
Blackmon is not as quick off the ball as his athletic ability would suggest. He has good top-end speed and acceleration in the open field, but struggles to burst enough in short areas to separate. He has such an elongated stride as a runner that he has difficulties running sharp routes.
For the top receiving prospect in the 2012 draft, that kind of analysis plus his refusal to run the 40 didn’t make for the best endorsement. Fortunately his 38 touchdowns over his final 25 games and two Blitnikoff awards could go toe-to-toe with his quick step struggles. When Blackmon finally did run the 40, he posted a decent 4.46. But until his Oklahoma State Pro Day, there were whispers that what he wouldn’t do during the combine may affect his draft status.
There’s a lot of speculation that goes on in late January and February, and the truth is that we just don’t know who’s who until they put on the pads and play 16 games. As it turns out, Blackmon does struggle to find separation while running routes and is forced to outmuscle his defender in order to get the ball. He isn’t the cleanest route-runner and not all of the routes required of him are going to get him to his top-end speed.
But he couldn’t prove his detractors wrong. Even if he had managed to show a 4.46 at the combine, there probably would have still been questions about his explosive speed. Heck, even if he really did run a 4.39 (video below) the questions were proven valid by his on-field play.
When looking at the Jags’ prospects, remember that as good as some players may be, the combine is just the combine. A lot goes into figuring out what a player can do on the football field. Whether it’s trying to figure out red flags or just relying more on game tape, the draft process is so much more than a few days in Indianapolis. Players like Matt Barkely may not throw during the combine, but they still have a shot at greatness.
When watching to see how some Jags’ prospects do, look for the sliders. See if someone isn’t doing as well as you know or perceive them to do. Game speed is different from the 40. And, as Blackmon proved in his rookie campaign, there are more ways to be successful than just moving quickly.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims