Coming off of a strong rookie season that saw him thrust into action due to injuries, safety Julian Blackmon has high expectations heading into the 2021 season.
Expectations are so high after Blackmon really helped solidify the Colts' defense in the back half next to Khari Willis under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus's watchful eyes. At times, Blackmon looked like a real contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year against Washington's Chase Young before fading down the stretch.
Now, all eyes are on him defensively to see what type of leap the third-round pick out of Utah can make in Year 2, earning the Colts' selection of biggest x-factor in Bleacher Report analyst Brad Gagnon's piece tabbing an x-factor for all 32 teams.
Here's what Gagnon had to say about Blackmon, who finished his rookie year with 42 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups, one forced fumble and three tackles for loss in 14 games.
An argument can be made that whoever is responsible for Carson Wentz's blind side in place of the retired Anthony Castonzo during Wentz's critical debut season with the Indianapolis Colts will be the team's X-factor in 2021.
The problem is it's still too early to know if veteran addition Eric Fisher will be healthy enough to play that role from the get-go, which could leave them leaning more heavily on the rest of an accomplished line while unreliable vet Sam Tevi likely steps in.
The line is strong in general, though, which is another reason why we'll instead look at a sophomore third-round defensive back who flashed often as a rookie and could easily become a star in Year 2. Julian Blackmon had two interceptions, six passes defended, 42 tackles (three for a loss) and a forced fumble as a rookie safety, but those numbers don't fully tell the story of his impact. He was seemingly always in on big plays, and the Colts felt good enough about him this offseason that they basically ignored the safety position in free agency and the draft.
Indy's defense is strong, but most of the star power is in the front seven. If Blackmon can change that next season, that D could get to the next level. But if he suffers a sophomore slump, they could be in a lot of trouble.
It was pretty surprising to not see one of Sam Tevi or Eric Fisher listed here, but I appreciate Gagnon going off the board to highlight Blackmon.
The Colts did show Blackmon a ton of confidence this off-season, adding Florida's Shawn Davis on Day 3 of the draft and adding veteran Sean Davis in free agency, neither of whom will challenge for Blackmon's job.
Though the star power on defense is certainly in front seven with DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Darius Leonard, Blackmon garnered a lot of attention nationally last season for his play filling in for Malik Hooker, transforming what the Colts could do on the backend with the rookie safety playing deep, dropping into the box, and even working in the slot at times.
Year 2 should see a substantial leap for Blackmon, who will now be two full years removed form the torn ACL he suffered at Utah, dropping him down draft boards.
The Colts are lucky to have a safety as talented as Blackmon to pair with Willis, making for a strong duo at safety that allows Eberflus to be creative and take chances defensively, providing a real spark to the Colts as a team.
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