BY JIM THOMAS
February 26, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS • For those who question Justin Blackmon's speed, the Oklahoma State wide receiver offers a simple, yet confident, retort.
"Look at the tape," Blackmon said. "I've never been caught from behind."
As a potential Top 5 pick and someone the Rams are eyeballing at No. 2, there isn't a player at this NFL scouting combine whose 40-yard dash time was more eagerly anticipated.
"Man, I'd like to run a 4.2," Blackmon joked. "But I know that's probably not going to happen. I know I'm not slow. So I'm going to get out there, I'll probably shock a few people."
Just not in Indianapolis.
Blackmon will not run the 40 here and might not participate in any drills Sunday after tweaking his hamstring while training last week.
"I might do the gauntlet (drill), maybe a few short routes," he said. "But I'm not going to open it up. It's a little tender."
Blackmon planned on running at the combine. In fact, he was thinking of running the day before he arrived here — perhaps in a final tune-up. But not now.
Plenty of elite NFL receivers didn't run eye-popping predraft 40 times — from Jerry Rice to Anquan Boldin to Marques Colston. But only Rice among that trio was a first-round pick, and he didn't go until No. 16. Today, even with the "discount" prices of the rookie wage scale, teams do not like to see question marks when they're investing millions of dollars near the top of the draft.
Other than any scheduled private workout, it will be all or nothing for Blackmon's 40 time at Oklahoma State's pro day March 9. That's less than two weeks away. And because hamstring injuries can linger, even minor ones, there's some concern in NFL circles whether Blackmon will run March 9 — or how effective he'll be if he does.
Even before the hamstring issue, and even before he measured in at 6 feet tall and 207 pounds — an inch shorter than advertised — there are some who think Blackmon doesn't quite measure up to the very best wide receivers of recent drafts. Count ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay among them.
"I think in the last five years, when you look at the elite receivers, Calvin Johnson and, to me, A.J. Green, were in that elite category, the highest of high," McShay said.
McShay puts Blackmon in a 'second tier" of wideouts that would include Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Michael Crabtree.
"I think he compares to Julio Jones in that they are physical receivers ready to come in and contribute right away," McShay said. "He knows how to use his body very well to shield defenders from the ball and kind of 'position' guys away. (He has) strong hands, yet still, every once in a while, has a focus drop, and Julio Jones is the same way.
"There's a lot of splitting hairs but, ultimately, he belongs at the top of the wide receiver class this year, somewhere in the top 10 picks."
High enough to take at No. 2? That's what the Rams must determine if they stay put. If they drop to No. 4 in a trade-down scenario with Cleveland, there's a good chance he'll still be there.
But if the Rams' end up going down to No. 6, with Washington as a trade partner? Maybe not. (And don't discount this scenario because coach Jeff Fisher and Washington counterpart Mike Shanahan have a good relationship and a healthy respect for each other.)
Neither Fisher nor Rams general manager Les Snead tipped their hand when asked Friday about Blackmon.
"Just a couple games," Fisher replied when asked if he'd looked at much tape of Blackmon.
Then in a subtle jab, he added: "Also looked at a number of other receivers."
It was Fisher's way of saying it's more than a one-receiver draft.
As for Snead, he said of Blackmon: "He's going to be a top player in this draft. I'm not ready to say is he better or worse than A.J. (Green) or Julio (Jones)."
In his 16 full seasons as Tennessee/Houston head coach, Fisher's squads selected only two wide receivers in the first round: Kenny Britt at No. 30 in 2009, and Kevin Dyson at No. 16 in 1998.
Despite his reputation as a run-oriented coach, Fisher by now has figured out how futile the Rams have been on offense in recent years, particularly in the passing game, and specifically at wide receiver. And because one of the big factors in Fisher taking the Rams' job was the presence of quarterback Sam Bradford, why not give him some pass-catching help?
If you ask Brandon Weeden, Blackmon's quarterback at Oklahoma State, there's really nothing to discuss.
"If I'm the Rams, I'm taking him," Weeden said, laughing. "All joking aside, I think he's a guy that can just change an offense. He's a guy that not only is physically really gifted — he gets it. He understands coverages. He understands defenses. He understands how to play football."
Even as curious as they are to see Blackmon run, Fisher and Snead are at heart film guys. And when you put on the tape of Blackmon's last two seasons at Oklahoma State, there's nothing but production and game-changing plays.
In 2010, he caught 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns. (Those totals were logged even though Blackmon was suspended for one game for a DUI arrest.)
In 2011, Blackmon's per-catch average dropped to 12.5 yards (from 16.1 in 2010), but his production remained off the charts: 122 catches, 1,522 yards and 18 TDs.
The tape might not show some of the highlight-reel acrobatics displayed by the likes of Johnson and Green, but it will show good acceleration after the catch and pure strength in breaking tackles. As such, Blackmon looks like a young Terrell Owens — a comparison that he embraces.
"I'd like to be sort of like him because his work ethic is real good, and I like to try to work as hard as I can," Blackmon said. "The way he is — as he plays — he never goes down with one person (tackling him), and that's how I try to go out there and play."
So what would Blackmon bring to a Rams team that desperately needs playmakers?
"They'd get a guy that loves to go out there and compete and is going to fight every play, that's going to be a good team player," he said.
But wouldn't it be strange for an Oklahoma State wideout to catch passes thrown by a quarterback from bitter rival Oklahoma?
"Not at all," Blackmon said. "Sam is a great quarterback. I'm sure we can put our differences aside.''