At pick 75 in the third round, the Indianapolis Colts traded back with the Detroit Lions to 85. By doing so, they recouped some picks lost in the earlier Cleveland Browns trade. Long story short, Chris Ballard moved up to select Jonathan Taylor and then moved back to take Julian Blackmon. Blackmon started his career at Utah as a cornerback before moving to safety in his final season. He tore his ACL in the Utes’ conference championship game, which should have left him on the board into the later rounds. Ballard, though, grabbed a versatile defender who can contribute in a variety of ways once healthy.
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Blackmon will fill in at safety in the NFL, but he gives defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus options. Will he line up in the deep middle of the field? Over a tight end? In the slot? Will he blitz from depth or cover a dangerous running back out of the backfield? The short answer is yes. He can do all of those things, which is the basis of his appeal. Even as a former corner, he can struggle if left on an island in coverage. However, he is a human stat-line who can record as many sacks as interceptions, as many tackles as pass breakups, and can play on special teams.
As mentioned, Blackmon tore his ACL in December. Will he be healthy enough to see the field as a rookie? What if the offseason is cut even shorter with ongoing coronavirus precautions? This young man is a second-round talent who could have been drafted in the fifth round. Instead, he was a surprise selection in the third round. If he cannot play until his second year, he may not be able to validate his draft position. NFL coaching could improve his man coverage shortcomings, but those reps have to happen on the field as well. At best, Blackmon starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List. At worse, he misses his entire rookie year.
Much like Taylor can supplant Marlon Mack at the end of Mack’s rookie contract, Blackmon could serve as the replacement for Malik Hooker. Ballard could view Mack as too expensive to re-sign when the running back hits free agency in 2021. Hooker has drawn only tepid support from his general manager when asked about the safety’s long-term future in Indy. The Colts have until May 4 to pick up Hooker’s fifth-year option, and Ballard said they will wait until after the draft to decide. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. If Blackmon can recover faster than expected and push Hooker for reps, this pick becomes all the more interesting.
Barring any midnight trades, the Colts are on the clock next in the fourth round at pick 122 overall. They’re also slated for 149 in the fifth, followed by 182 and 193 in the sixth. Defensive back depth was a need. Offensive and defensive line depth remain a priority. A tight end would make sense, too. It is looking less and less likely that the team drafts a quarterback this year, although they are proving to be as unpredictable as ever.