Unlike last year’s race between Julio Jones and A.J. Green, Justin Blackmon is the consensus top wide receiver in this year’s NFL draft. He draws many comparisons to fellow Oklahoma State product, Dez Bryant, but is he really at that level? Warren Moon recently called Blackmon “Dez Bryant with brain cells”, which is a pretty accurate way to sum up what Blackmon brings to the table.
Character issues aside, there is no denying Bryant’s ability as a receiver. He runs great routes, can go up and “pluck” the ball out of the air, and possesses as much athletic ability as any receiver in the league. He is tremendous after the catch and is great in traffic.
You can say a lot of the same things about Blackmon. Like Bryant, he has a massive frame that allows his to separate from defenders. He possesses a great first step and reaches his top speed quickly. He has tremendous body control and is a natural “plucker” of the football in jump-ball situations. Justin is a big, physical presence and will be a huge red-zone threat at the next level. Above all else, he possesses one of the most important qualities a receiver must have: balance, which is crucial in route running and gaining separation.
So, what does Bryant have that Blackmon does not? Simply put, Bryant is faster in the open field, which is a big reason why the Dallas Cowboys are willing to use him on punt returns. Blackmon is still very good after the catch, but it is more because of his great balance and ability to out-muscle defenders for extra yards, like a young Brandon Marshall. Blackmon lacks that second gear to pull away from defenders.
Still, at least in my opinion, top-end speed is one of the most overrated qualities involved in the evaluation process. How often are players involved in a footrace with defenders to the end zone?
Overall, when you look at these two guys as prospects, they are extremely similar. To me, Blackmon is just as polished as Dez Bryant was coming out, but Dez’s athleticism put his potential through the roof. I also get the feeling that we have still not see the best of Dez Bryant, as he has battled injury problems and off-field issues in each of his first two seasons in Dallas.
Is Justin Blackmon as good as than Dez Bryant as a prospect? Maybe not. But if I was scouting for an NFL team, I would have a much easier time pulling the trigger on Blackmon in the top ten because, as Warren Moon stated, he “has all of his brain cells”.
Bryant, despite his talent, is at a crossroads in his career as to whether he can fulfill his potential, which is probably higher than that of Blackmon’s. But I trust Blackmon to stay out of trouble and reach his potential as a pro, even if it is slightly lower than Bryant’s.