Justin Blackmon is talented but can't outrun draft questions

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2012 - 7:19 AM

The Oklahoma State receiver draws raves, but a perception that he's too slow is hurting.


Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon

Photo: Paul Connors, Associated Press

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INDIANAPOLIS - Brandon Weeden isn't a scout. And he isn't staying at a Holiday Inn Express while at the NFL combine this weekend. But that didn't stop the Oklahoma State quarterback from delivering a confident scouting report on receiver Justin Blackmon.

All these questions about Blackmon's speed that seem to be shadowing the Oklahoma State playmaker in the lead-up to the draft?

"Turn on the film," Weeden said Friday afternoon. "The guy pulls away from everybody. You turn on the film and no one catches up to him."

This isn't a snap judgment made from evaluating a small sample size. Over the past two seasons, Weeden has connected with Blackmon 233 times for 3,304 yards and 38 touchdowns.

He watched Blackmon develop into the undisputed top receiver in college football, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner who likely will be the first pass catcher drafted in April.

But what the nit-picking critics still wonder is whether, even with all that production, Blackmon truly has enough burst to separate consistently in the NFL, whether his speed is at a level that will allow him to easily get open.

Weeden's endorsement: "Justin and I were always on the same page. Obviously, he's not only extremely talented physically, but mentally he's got it. He's a really smart player who understands coverages. He understands how to route-adjust for different looks. And he's always communicating. On the sideline he was constantly giving me feedback on what he thought we could do."

The Vikings, owners of the No. 3 overall pick, have plans to vet Blackmon as thoroughly as possible as they establish their draft priorities. Yet they won't have an opportunity to get a stopwatch on Blackmon at the combine. With advice from those around him, Blackmon has opted not to run the 40-yard dash Sunday, still nursing a recently tweaked hamstring that remains tender.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier shrugged off that decision.

"You'd like for him to run here, for sure," Frazier said. "It goes to the competitive factor. But you can still get that done at his college or wherever he ends up running at."

After all, Oklahoma State's pro day is scheduled for March 7. That will be here soon enough.

As for what time Blackmon hopes to post when he does get on the line for the 40?

"Man, I'd like to run a 4.2," he said. "But that's probably not going to happen. I know I'm not slow. I'm going to get out and will probably shock a few people."

This year's draft class remains deep at receiver. So it wouldn't be a surprise if the Vikings passed on Blackmon, using that third pick to address other areas of need. Plus, before draft weekend rolls around, they may be able to make a big-splash free-agent signing to upgrade the passing attack.

But it certainly wouldn't be a disappointment if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ended up handing Blackmon a purple jersey on April 26, his sprint times notwithstanding.

After all, the 6-1, 207-pound receiver offers a special blend of size, balance and ball skills that remind NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock of Larry Fitzgerald.

"I don't think you're going to see a guy that wows you with vertical speed," Mayock said. "But his body control, hands and ability to catch the football are exceptional."

Which, at this time of year, inevitably leads to other grand comparisons. On Friday, Blackmon was asked to compare his skill set with Calvin Johnson's. A few minutes later, a reporter wondered how his strengths paralleled those of Terrell Owens.

And the most frequent -- and arguably the most realistic -- comparison puts Blackmon in a class with Anquan Boldin, a playmaker with similar size, strength and body control who averaged six catches and 79 receiving yards per game over his first seven seasons in Arizona.

Boldin, it's worth noting, posted a miserable 4.72-second 40 time at the 2003 combine and plummeted down draft boards. Fears emerged that he didn't have enough burst to be a major difference-maker.

As for Blackmon, he repeats Weeden's answer when confronted with similar doubts.

"Look at the tape. I've never been caught from behind."

As for how he's selling himself to teams this weekend?

"I'm me," Blackmon said. "I'm not going to try to be anybody but me. I'm going to tell them what I've got to offer and see what they've got to say about it."

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