INDIANAPOLIS — Before Utah safety Julian Blackmon was chosen in the third round of Friday’s NFL draft, he received a call from the Indianapolis Colts to advise of the possibility of his early selection.
If it seemed early at No. 85 overall, it’s because Blackmon is coming off an ACL injury. He’s four months into his rehabilitation after surgery.
That means it would be premature to pencil him into the Colts lineup even as a role player, especially with teams not yet permitted to get together during offseason training activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Honestly, I had a lot of contact with the coaches, yes sir,” Blackmon said in a Friday video conference call. “They told me, ‘Hey, don’t be surprised if we pick you earlier than what people expect. We don’t care that you’re hurt.’ And here I am a Colt.”
The fact that Blackmon might not be back on a football field until late August or September also suggests his value for 2020 might be limited at best. Colts general manager Chris Ballard suggested the rookie might not be completely ready to play until as late as October.
That said, the Colts still saw Blackmon as a long-term defensive fit.
They liked that the 6-1, 187-pound prospect played cornerback for two years, being named second-team All-Pac 12 each year, before switching to safety last season, when he was a second-team All-American. Blackmon combines the instinctive coverage skills of a cornerback with the necessary physical characteristics of a safety.
“I feel like I have my own play style,” Blackmon said. “That’s why the Colts picked me I feel like, just because I can bring a lot of things, whether it be on an island or guarding a tight end, I’ve done it all and that’s what helps me.”
Here’s what NFL.com wrote about him:
“While Blackmon displayed some inconsistencies in recognition and ball tracking in his first season at safety, the move clearly gives him his best chance to become a pro. The former cornerback has soft hands and carryover route-anticipation that should allow him to match against tight ends as a pro. He can play split safety, big nickel or help support the run as a down safety. His field recognition and angles to the football are still behind from his new position, but he should keep getting better. His December knee injury will push him down the draft board, but he has the traits and talent to make it in the league.”
The fact that the Colts selected Blackmon a bit early for a player dropping on draft boards due to the knee injury shows how highly they valued his skills and were convinced they would eventually translate to the NFL.
Looking beyond 2020, the Colts have an interesting decision to make regarding safety Malik Hooker, a 2017 first-round choice with dynamic playmaking ability but inconsistent results. Ballard has yet to decide if the Colts will pick up the 2021 contract option on Hooker.
Numerous reports before the draft suggested that Ballard received trade offers for Hooker.
If the Colts don’t pick up that 2021 contract option, Hooker can become a free agent after next season, which would free up a starting spot if Blackmon proves himself worthy. As it is now, Hooker and second-year pro Khari Willis are the likely starters.
Ballard is always adamant about not wanting to reach for a player, so this probably qualifies as a bit of a reach, depending upon how Blackmon heals and if he’s able to adjust to the pro game. But there’s no mistaking the Colts considered this a position of need for them to draft Blackmon with other pressing depth issues on the offensive line and cornerback.