As Rick Spielman immerses himself this week in the final stages of planning for his first draft as Vikings general manager, he’ll have his hands full with the prioritization of the wish list. With 10 draft picks overall, including the No. 3 selection and six more in the top 140, Spielman will have a chance to scour the draft market for potential difference makers to help on both sides of the ball.
At No. 3? Spielman has said since the first week he took over at GM that he would consider trade offers. The chance to accumulate multiple first-round selections in exchange for the No. 3 pick would certainly be intriguing. Yet if the Vikings stay put? The consensus seems to be that they’ll make the surest selection out there for them, scooping up Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil.
But what if the Vikings wanted to really add some firepower to their offense? Wouldn’t drafting Justin Blackmon with their top pick and pairing him with young quarterback Christian Ponder be an ideal formula to energize the passing attack for years to come?
Last month, I spoke with NFL Network analyst and former perennial Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt and asked him to dissect Blackmon’s game and the challenges that come with emerging as a reliable playmaker on the next level. Here are four notable things Holt had to say.
1) Blackmon’s physicality is impressive. Pair that with his aggressive mentality to make plays after the catch and he has a chance to make a major impact early in his career.
Holt spoke recently with Steve Keim, Arizona’s director of player personnel, and the two came to an agreement. Blackmon, they believe, seems to be a cross between Terrell Owens and Anquan Boldin in a lot of ways.
“There were some questions about his speed,” Holt said. “But I think he put that to rest at his pro day at Oklahoma State. And personally I was never concerned with that. What I always take a look at is how fast does a kid play at game time. Jerry Rice wasn’t a 4.2 or 4.3 guy in the 40. But he played at a speed that no other guy could play at for four quarters. And if Justin Blackmon can play at the speed I’ve seen this kid play at for four quarters, it’s going to be a problem. He’s going to be an instant asset to some organization right now.”
2) Holt believes the early keys for Blackmon will be landing with a team that has an engaging wide receivers coach, who will foster the young playmaker’s growth early.
Blackmon will have plenty to work on to polish up his route running. And he’ll also have to remain self-motivated. But the catalyst, Holt believes, will come from uniting with a passionate coaching staff and a driven group of fellow receivers.
“I think he has an ability to step onto the scene his first year and have a tremendous impact,” Holt said.
“Man, he plays big. He’s not a 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 type of guy. But he plays tall. He plays big in terms of his stature. He’s muscular. But he plays a lot bigger than what his measurements are. Big-time player.”
3) Holt, drafted No. 6 overall by St. Louis in 1999, knows Blackmon will shoulder a lot of pressure as a top 10 pick expected to energize the offense of a struggling team.
“I was coming to the Rams, a team that was 4-12 the previous year before I got drafted,” Holt said. “To go top 10 in the draft, they thought I was going to come in and provide instant instant success. You feel that pressure. And then there’s the pressure you put on yourself. For me, going No. 6 overall, I wanted to go out and prove every day that I was worthy of being picked No. 6. So I carried a little bit of that pressure with me. That can be dangerous and can be hard on you as a young player if you have too much of that.
"But I think ultimately it was good pressure because it pushed me to go out and practice and get the information I needed and to watch the film and to ask the questions that I needed to improve my game on a regular basis. But yeah, I know I felt that pressure significantly as a receiver. I can only imagine what that must be like with the young quarterbacks.”
4) All young receivers need to understand that breakthroughs on the NFL level are very rarely instant.
Holt, despite catching 52 passes for 788 yards as a rookie and 82 more for 1,635 yards the next year, didn’t fully feel comfortable and unwaveringly confident until the end of his third season in 2001. For starters, the speed of the game and the level of competition was eye opening.
“It’s amazing the adjustments that defenses make, the adjustments that elite corners can make depending on what you do well and what you don’t do well,” Holt said. “And just the constant competitiveness play after play after play. In college you may run into a decent cornerback in two or three games during a season. … Then you get to the NFL and a lot of those guys were standout No. 1s at their universities. They knew how to compete on a consistent basis. And getting used to the competition level every single play was eye opening.”
Plus, supplementing God-given talent with an understanding of the game was another big hurdle.
“Particularly in my fourth season, I started to come into my own,” Holt said. “I wasn’t relying all the way on my athletic ability and just my natural skills. I was starting to think. I was seeing defenses differently. I had a great understanding of the concepts of what we were doing offensively and how I fit in and what I had to do to get open. And I started learning how to manipulate corners and safeties, setting them up.
Though I had been playing receiver all of my life, I still didn’t feel comfortable in terms of really going out and doing my thing. I would say it was going into that fourth year that I was really ready to roll.”