Former Ute Julian Blackmon drew raves from Indianapolis scouts

Ryan Kostecka

When Julian Blackmon collapsed to the ground grabbing his knee in the Pac-12 championship game, nobody knew what to expect.

On one hand, the noncontact injury looked severe and almost everybody assumed it was a torn ACL from the way he fell. On the other, not only was Blackmon unable to finish the game, the injury also prevented him from participating in the Alamo Bowl against Texas — Utah would lose both games.

That means that Utah's all-American safety and one of its most respected defensive backs in program history would end his career on the sideline.

More pressing though was that Blackmon would need surgery for the injury, and would therefore miss the NFL combine and the Utah's pro day. At that time everyone expected Blackmon, who was projected to be taken in second or third round of the draft, to either fall to the sixth or seventh rounds, or even undrafted altogether because ACL injuries are tricky.

Lucky for Blackmon, the Indianapolis Colts had fallen in love with Blackmon and chose him with the No. 85 overall pick in the third round, fully believing in his ability to recover from the injury.

“I didn’t want to lose him behind us. We thought there was a chance he would be there in the third. We were worried that he wouldn’t be there in the fourth,” Colts GM Chris Ballard said after Day 2 of the draft. “He’s got the ACL injury, we know that he won’t be ready probably until late August, early September which means that he might not even really help us until October.”

Ballard and some of his scouts for the Colts recently opened up about what makes Blackmon so special and why he was highly coveted within the organization.

“The first thing that pops off the tape right there is his ability to take the football away. So when you have that ability, you are what we call a game-changer,” said Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. “You are a guy that can help us win football games by taking the football away. So that is number one.”

Matt Terpening, Indianapolis’ assistant director of college scouting, also talked about what made Blackmon s appealing, particularly his choice to return to college for his senior season and play safety.

“Julian is really unique. So as a junior last year, he actually thought about coming out, he played corner, and he decided to stay in school, which was the right move for him,” Terpening said. “They (Utah) moved him to safety. And he just had a lights-out season, lights-out senior season. He really jumps off tape. He’s got versatility. He’s got speed. And he can cover.”

Chris McGaha, an area scout for the Colts with a focus on the West Coast, really liked Blackmon's versatility after thriving at both corner and safety while in college. 

“He’s a rangy, athletic, free safety who’s played corner. So, he’s got a lot of versatility to him and he played corner for two years, he was successful doing it,” McGaha said.

Blackmon was a three-time all-Pac-12 performer and a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated, The Athletic and Pro Football Focus — also named a second-team All-American from the Associated Press, USA Today and AFCA, this past season.

He earned Pac-12 honors as a cornerback in 2017 and 2018 before transitioning to safety as a senior to help the Utes fill a void at the position, where he again earned all Pac-12 honors.

Right now the Colts don't have an opening at safety as Malik Hooker, a 2017 first-rounder, and second-year pro Khari Willis are locking down both spots. But Hooker;s fifth-year option wasn't picked up following this season, meaning that Hooker will be a free agent. If Hooker leaves in free agency, that would then free up a starting spot heading into the 2021 season.

Hooker has shown flashes of great play but has been inconsistent to the point that Ballard was listening to trade offers for him, according to numerous reports.

Once healthy and how Blackmon responds on the field will be huge to him taking over as a starter in 2021. If Blackmon can prove that he's ready excel at this level, there's a likely chance that Hooker will be gone and Blackmon will enter next season as a starter.

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