Justin Blackmon

Draft Grades: Jacksonville Jaguars

I feel like I should apologize to Jacksonville Jaguars fans for GM Gene Smith. He continues to make a mockery of the NFL Draft. In his first few years at the helm Smith showed an inexplicable obsession with small school prospects. And while that phase seems to have passed, he’s moved on to 3rd-round punters and 28-year-old D-II players.

The Jags draft got off to a solid start with the selection of Justin Blackmon. They needed to upgrade the talent around Blaine Gabbert, and Blackmon will immediately jump to the top of their depth chart at receiver. If he lives up to expectations, Gabbert’s numbers should improve dramatically.

I also like the selection of Andre Branch, who fills their need for a pass rusher. Branch is still developing, but he’s in a good situation in Jacksonville where he can be a part of the rotation without having to stay on the field for every play. If they bring him along slowly as a rookie, he should be ready to be an impact player in 2013.

After two solid picks to start the draft, it went downhill in a hurry. Bryan Anger was far and away the best punter in this year’s draft class, but the 3rd round? It was a reach that could potentially be justified by a contending team with few holes to fill, but the Jaguars are in the midst of a full-fledged rebuilding process. There is no possible way for Gene Smith to justify this selection.

Brandon Marshall adds some depth at linebacker, but there were much better players on the board, such as Terrell Manning, who would have filled that same need.

Mike Harris was an odd pick in the 6th round. The Jaguars would have been well served to add a legitimate starting cornerback in the 1st or 2nd round, but depth at the position is actually a strength. Harris is undersized and, even at Florida State, was limited to primarily playing the nickel corner role.

Jeris Pendleton is a 28-year-old from a Division-II school. The Jaguars will use him at nose tackle, and he could potentially be forced into a starting role early if Terrance Knighton isn’t ready for the start of the season. It’s an experiment that could go horribly wrong, and they don’t appear to have a backup plan in place.

Gene Smith has officially taken over the Al Davis role as most unpredictable general manager on draft day. And while most of his picks leave much to be desired, this should still prove to be an average draft class for the Jaguars. Blackmon and Branch are two quality additions, but the lack of help from the late rounds means there’s no margin for error with those two.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Jaguars Comments Off

Jaguars select Justin Blackmon, Grade: A

Everyone is making great decisions so far tonight, which is a rarity. The Jacksonville Jaguars needed to upgrade the talent around Blaine Gabbert, and Justin Blackmon will immediately become their No. 1 receiver.

Don’t expect this to immediately turn things around in Jacksonville, but in a year or two Gabbert/Blackmon could be a special connection so long as GM Gene Smith continues to surround them with the pieces they need to succeed.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Jaguars Comments Off

Rams targeting Matt Kalil?

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that the St. Louis Rams are interested in trading up for the 4th pick in the draft.

The obvious assumption is that the team is targeting Justin Blackmon, and is worried that either the Browns or Bucs (or someone else trading up) will land him before the 6th pick.

But what if the Rams have other plans?

Matt Kalil

Is Kalil the Rams real target?

The Browns are unlikely to draft Blackmon – it just doesn’t fit with the track record of GM Tom Heckert and President Mike Holmgren. And the Bucs almost certainly have Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson ahead of Blackmon on their board. So what could be motivating the Rams to move up?

Perhaps their target is actually Matt Kalil, and this proposed trade is contingent on the Vikings passing on the future franchise left tackle.

While adding a playmaker for Sam Bradford is certainly a priority, so is keeping Bradford on his feet. Rodger Saffold is better suited to play right tackle, and Jason Smith may be better off playing guard (or simply a backup role at this point). Kalil would certainly change the dynamic of the Rams offensive line, and the extra time provided to Bradford could open things up in the passing game.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Rams Comments Off

Panthers targeting receiver in 1st round?

Most mock drafts have the Carolina Panthers matched up with a defensive lineman in the 1st round, but their recent pre-draft visits may indicate another strategy.

Visits don’t necessarily translate to genuine interest in a player but when teams take a closer look at multiple players at the same position, that’s usually a good indication of where their interests lie.

The Panthers have already arranged visits with Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright – the only three consensus 1st-round receivers.

This certainly doesn’t mean the Panthers are locked in to this approach – they’ve also visited two two potential top-10 defensive linemen – but it does indicate they’re at least entertaining the idea of upgrading the talent around Cam Newton.

Personally, I think it would be a wise choice. After spending two 3rd-round picks on defensive tackles in 2011, there’s no need to bring in another rookie so soon. This is Cam Newton’s team, and they would be wise to give him all the support he needs to flourish.

For more info, follow our Draft Visit Tracker, updated daily. 

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Panthers 2 Comments

Rams Offseason Priority: Get Bradford Some Weapons

The St. Louis Rams have holes all over the place, but one area of concern stands out above the rest: wide receiver.

The midseason acquisition of Brandon Lloyd was a futile attempt to turn the league’s worst receiving corps into something that Sam Bradford could work with. And while Floyd was an upgrade over Mike Sims-Walker, he made little noticeable impact and is now set to become a free agent (and more than likely will take the first chance to sign elsewhere).

That leaves the Rams with Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas (who has excellent hands and should be use more), Austin Pettis and Danario Alexander – not exactly a crew Bradford can get excited about.

So what can the Rams realistically do to improve this group?

Obviously they’ll try to spend some money in free agency, but it can be tough to attract any meaningful veterans to a 2-14 team with a struggling third-year quarterback.

In reality, the Rams will be forced to address this need in the draft, and it could start in the 1st round. Most assume that Justin Blackmon will be high on the Rams wish list, and he is definitely an option. However, Kendall Wright may actually be the better fit for new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offensive scheme.

While Wright is smaller than Blackmon, he is far superior in his ability to stretch the field, a key component in the Schottenheimer scheme. One of the reason’s Schottenheimer’s offense struggled in New York was due to his inability to find the right quarterback-receiver combo to stretch the field – something which he will likely be hoping to develop early in his tenure in St. Louis.


Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Rams 1 Comment

Jaguars Offseason Priority: Find a No. 1 Receiver

The Jacksonville Jaguars offense struggled in 2011, that’s no secret.

Much of the blame was placed on rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but a closer look at some advanced statistics reveals that perhaps Gabbert was simply a victim of poor play from his receivers.

AdvancedNFLStats.com tracks the Win Probability Added (WPA) of each play throughout the season, and assigns the final WPA to each player involved. Over the course of the season, they also track a stat called Success Rate, which is simply the percentage of plays resulting in a positive WPA.

On any given play, the reason for the positive or negative WPA could be attributed to any number of players. As a result, Success Rate should certainly be taken with a grain of salt. However, over the course of the season one would expect the numbers to even out to a fairly accurate representation of a player’s true value. If you’re wondering if this stat passes the “eye test” here are the top three receivers for 2011: Marques Colston (71.4%), Wes Welker (66.2) and Jorday Nelson (65.7).

This stat also confirms that the Jaguars have a very serious issue on their hands at wide receiver. In 2011, the Jaguars three primary targets – Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Jarett Dilliard – each ranked among the 14 worst receivers in terms of success rate. And only Eddie Royal struggled more than Thomas and Hill.

One could still argue that these low numbers are a result of poor quarterback play. But if that’s the case, we should see similarly poor success rates from the receivers of quarterbacks with similar statistics to Gabbert. According to WPA, the three worst quarterbacks this past year were Gabbert, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. However, only one of the qualifying receivers in St. Louis and New York, ranked worse than any of the Jaguars three primary targets (St. Louis’ Brandon Lloyd, 42.0%)

So with this in mind, how should the Jaguars approach the draft?

While they certainly have other holes to fill as well, it would be tough to justify not putting a wide receiver at the top of their draft wish list.

Justin Blackmon – who I currently have heading to Jacksonville in my latest mock draft – would seem to be an obvious choice if he’s on the board at No. 7. But what if he’s gone?

One option, in the event that Blackmon appears unlike to fall, would be to trade up. Here’s one plausible scenario: the Redskins trade up to No. 2 and select Robert Griffin. This leaves the Browns without the quarterback they covet, making them a candidate to trade down. The Jaguars could then jump the Rams, who would be at No. 6, and move up to No. 4 for Blackmon, likely parting with a 2nd-round pick in the process.

The second option would be to settle for the next best receiver, either Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright. Both would be a slight reach at No. 7, but could be worth it to fill a glaring hole.

The third option is to trade down in hopes of landing Floyd or Wright later in the 1st round. The Cowboys could be a potential trading partner, who may be interested in moving up for Dre Kirkpatrick.

For the same of Jaguars fans, I hope GM Gene Smith address this need in free agency, or in the 1st round. Because if he doesn’t, you know that some small school sleeper will land in Jacksonville in the 2nd or 3rd round and, like Cecil Shorts this past season, will likely have minimal immediate impact.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Jaguars Comments Off

Evaluating the top receivers in 2012 draft class

I’ve spent some time over the past couple days going over the top receivers in this year’s draft class. There are five guys who clearly stand out above the rest and, barring any dramatic events in the upcoming months (arrests, injuries, etc), I’ve setting on my rankings for each.

1. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
Blackmon is the obvious top choice. He’s a physical freak who has the size and speed to dominate from Day One. The only thing that can keep Blackmon from developing into a Pro Bowl receiver is himself. He was arrested on a DUI charge in 2010, and his effort on the field hasn’t always been 100%. But he appeared to step up his game in 2011, staying out of trouble and staying more focused on the field.

Wright is a legitimate top-20 talent

2. Kendall Wright, Baylor
Michael Floyd and Alshon Jeffery have been No. 2 on most boards throughout the season, but after watching Wright dominate in some of his toughest matchups this season (vs Oklahoma, Texas), I’m bumping him up into this slot. Five years ago it would have been tough to rank Wright this high. But the NFL passing game has been changing in recent years and we’re seeing more undersized receivers emerge as a legitimate No. 1 targets (Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, etc). Wright has all the tools necessary to join that group and be a game-changer at the next level.  Read more

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft Comments Off

Justin Blackmon scouting report

Justin Blackmon WR Oklahoma State
Ht: 6’1″

Wt: 211

Good overall size. Elite strength. A physical receiver who can easily fight through press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Big, strong hands. Shows the ability make the tough catch in the traffic. Efficient route runner; makes quick, clean cuts to gain separation. A tough runner after the catch; willing to take a hit and drag defenders with him. Has a reputation for being a hard worker off the field.
Effort and focus appears to be lacking at times; he’ll make the tough catches but then drop an easy one. Arrested and suspended for one game for a DUI charge in 2010. Speed is adequate, but lacks the burst to be consistent deep threat.
Blackmon’s biggest obstacle will be convincing teams that his character concerns – both off-field incidents and on-field lack of focus – will not effect his performance at the next level. He has a similar skill set to former teammate Dez Bryant, and his effectiveness in the same offensive scheme is reason to believe he can take his game to the next level. In terms of his on-field transition to the next level, Blackmon will need to become more of a possession receiver. Oklahoma State’s spread offense opens up space for Blackmon which he will not be able to create at the next level. Don’t expect him to light up the NFL from day one, but given a year or two develop he should begin to show Pro Bowl caliber skills.
2011 vs Arizona
2011 vs Texas A&M
2011 vs Kansas State
2010 vs Baylor 
Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Scouting Reports - 2012 3 Comments

Are Blackmon’s hands a concern?

Justin Blackmon is clearly an elite talent, with the size and speed of a true No. 1. And I currently have him as my top rated receiver for 2012.

However, I am slightly concerned about his pass-catching technique.

While watching Blackmon dominate the Arizona secondary last Thursday, I noticed his tendency to let the ball come into his chest or his stomach. Rarely does he extend his arms and gently tuck the ball after corralling it with his hands.

The play at the 1:36 point on this video is a good example:

On this particular play Blackmon does a nice job tracking the ball over his shoulder, but he lets it land down on his hip. He clearly has a step on the defensive backs and easily could have adjusted to make the catch, but instead takes a lazy approach.

Now watch the following play.

In this play the ball is high, forcing Blackmon to extend his arms and make the catch with his hands. He does an excellent job plucking the ball from above his shoulders and quickly turning to run for the 1st down.

It’s clear that Blackmon has the ability to make these plays, but his consistency is lacking.

Why does this matter?

In college Blackmon is such an elite talent that few cornerbacks or linebackers are in position to make a hit on him immediately following the reception. This allows him to easily corral the ball with his hands or his arms. On an NFL field, however, space is limited. He’ll be making more catches in traffic and if the defender and the ball arrive at the same time, he will experience a dramatic increase in drops.

This is a very correctable flaw in Blackmon’s game, but it is one that NFL teams will keep an eye on throughout the rest of this season and in his pre-draft workouts.

Video from @draftbreakdown

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft 2 Comments