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Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, Kalil
Much to Debate Between Blackmon, Kalil
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer
Posted 2 hours ago
Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon is considered the best at his position but one thing the Rams will have to consider in the buildup to the draft is whether a wideout holds more value than a top tackle like USC's Matt Kalil.
INDIANAPOLIS – As far as the Rams are concerned, one of the hottest debates they’ll have between now and April’s NFL Draft is one that has a little bit of a chicken vs. the egg feel to it.
Throwing all of the trade speculation to the side and focusing on the possibility that the Rams could fall in love with a player and draft him with the No. 2 pick, there’s likely to be a lot of conversation on what the team needs most: a dynamic, play making wide receiver or a dominant protector of an offensive tackle.
When posed with the question of which would be more beneficial for quarterback Sam Bradford, general manager Les Snead made it clear that there’s not really a definitively correct answer.
“You definitely need both,” Snead said. “You can have weapons. Go back to the Buddy Ryan days with the Chicago Bears and their 46 defense. They blitzed, there were people running open but the quarterback just couldn’t get the guys open. But you also know if you don’t have weapons people can defend you if they are not scared of your perimeter speed and explosion. They can now bring their whole defense up closer and not be worried about the ball going over their head. There’s a fine line. We have got to do both to succeed here.”
Considering the Rams’ need for help at both positions, there’s no question they will look long and hard at wideouts and tackles in this draft, particularly the top players at those positions.
This year, it’s pretty clear that one player stands alone at the top of those respective positions: Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
Both have been touted as the best at their spots and both have been praised as potential top-five picks. Of course, the Rams could trade down and potentially still draft a player at either position but if the Rams are to stay at No. 2 and draft a player, there’s a very real chance that player will be Blackmon or Kalil.
Here’s a closer look at what the Rams will have to weigh in the next two months before they make any kind of decision.
THE IMPACT WIDEOUT
When evaluating his team last year, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff saw a glaring need for a wide receiver who could make big plays in the passing game. One of his top lieutenants at the time was player personnel director Les Snead.
Dimitroff, with the help of Snead, engineered one of the biggest draft day moves in league history, moving up from No. 27 in the draft to No. 6 where the Falcons selected Alabama’s Julio Jones.
It was a bold move but also one that made a lot of sense in today’s NFL, where dynamic passing games rule and play makers are at a premium.
“It seems like some of the old school football coaches who have been around a long time call this basketball on grass now,” Snead said. “It’s become a space game so you are going to have to be explosive in a short area either to react or pro-act. Football is basically physics and geometry. It’s angles and physics, it’s force and speed and all of that coming together for explosion. Yes, you have to look at a different type of animal. You can see that in college football. Players are getting smaller at all levels. It’s a spacing game and speed, agility and quickness are at a premium.”
Enter Blackmon, the clear cut top wideout in the draft after a dizzyingly productive college career in which he posted 3,564 yards, 252 catches and 40 touchdowns in just 35 games.
Blackmon was so dominant as a redshirt sophomore – he had 111 catches for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns – that he nearly entered the draft and took a shot at dethroning last year’s dynamic receiver duo of Jones and Georgia’s A.J. Green (who went fourth to Cincinnati).
Instead, Blackmon opted to return to school but that doesn’t mean he has any notion that he isn’t as talented as Jones or Green.
“They are great athletes,” Blackmon said. “They came into the league and did a really good job this year. They had really good rookie seasons, both A.J. and Julio. I am very competitive, so I would put myself right up there with them. I like to compete, so I’m not going to down myself and say that I’m not just as good as them.”
If his endorsement isn’t enough to make the Rams think twice about making sure they get him at No. 2, Dimitroff co-signed that Blackmon is in the same class as his own prized young wideout.
“I think most people would agree that Julio Jones and A.J. Green were at the top of their draft boards and there was a lot of interest,” Dimitroff said. “I think someone like Blackmon is going to garner a lot of interest and there are going to be a lot of people that are contemplating being aggressive about going up and getting a receiver that can be an impact player in this league.”
While the many rose petals being tossed at Blackmon’s feet are well earned, make no mistake, he doesn’t come without a few question marks.
Blackmon measured in at a shade less than 6’1 at the scouting combine Friday. By no means does that mean he’s too small to be a NFL success but it also is a few inches shorter than most receivers who have gone in the top five in recent drafts.
In addition, some believe that though Blackmon is great at catching intermediate passes and breaking tackles for yards after the catch, he might not have the speed to make big plays vertically in the passing game.
Because of a hamstring injury, Blackmon will not run the 40-yard dash when the receivers go through the physical workouts on Sunday. He’ll wait until Oklahoma State’s Pro Day on March 7 to try to wow scouts with his speed.
“I’d like to run a 4.2, but that’s probably not going to happen,” Blackmon said. “I know I’m not slow. I’m going to get out and will probably shock a few people.”
At his best, Blackmon says he’s run in the 4.4 range, which would be more than enough to solidify his status as a potential top-five pick. But even if he doesn’t Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden would advise teams not to put too much stock into a single 40-yard dash.
“Turn on the film,” Weeden said. “The guy pulls away from everybody. You turn on the film and no one catches up to him.”
Blackmon grew up in a military family in Ardmore, Okla. His father was dispatched to Kuwait when he was in fifth grade.
With his father not around, Blackmon acknowledged that he acted out a bit. When he meets with teams this weekend, he’ll have to answer questions about an arrest for driving under the influence.
“It was rough,” Blackmon said. “But growing up in a military home I knew that was his job and something he had to do. He never complained about it. He did what he had to do. As a family, we couldn’t do much more than pray and hope that he would come back.”
Blackmon said Friday that it is important to him to be the first receiver drafted and he said he’d have no problem catching passes for the Rams from former college rival and current Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.
“Not at all,” Blackmon said. “Sam is a great quarterback and I’m sure we could put our differences aside for that.”
From the Rams’ perspective it’s imperative to find some play makers in this offseason. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Torry Holt in 2007.
Should they opt to draft Blackmon, either at No. 2 or even after a possible trade down, the hope would be that he’s the player that could end that streak.
“He’s going to be a top player in the draft,” Snead said. “I’m not ready to say is he better or worse than A.J. or Julio but just like last year, we were picking in the 20s and there’s a lot of reasons why we wanted to go up and get him. If we figure out between now and then that Justin is worth it, I think he would definitely be an option.”
THE BLINDSIDE PROTECTOR
When Jeff Fisher became head coach of the then Houston Oilers, he was handed a team with a few pieces in place, not the least of which was a left tackle that would hold down the position for 13 seasons.
Consequently, the Oilers/Titans never had much of a need for a left tackle in Fisher’s time there and Tennessee never seriously considered selecting one. When the time did come, Mike Munchak was established as the offensive line coach and the Titans believed they could use a later pick on a tackle and develop him, something they have done successfully with former second-round pick Michael Roos, whom they drafted in 2005 and has been to three Pro Bowls since.
“I think Brad Hopkins was selected a couple years beforehand and coach Munchak does an outstanding job of evaluating the offensive line, as does the staff,” Fisher said. “We just felt like over the years, we could get those guys in rounds 2, 3 or 4 and develop them and we did so.”
From the Rams’ perspective, the need on the offensive line has been born mostly out of injury. The team drafted Jason Smith with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft in hopes he’d become that cornerstone tackle.
Smith’s career has been a series of starts and stops though as he’s been plagued by a pair of serious concussions that have kept him off the field.
Rodger Saffold had a terrific rookie season in 2010 but had a setback last year when he suffered a torn pectoral while weight lifting mid-way through the season. The Rams led the league in sacks allowed in 2011, yielding 55.
That leaves a clear opening for the Rams to potentially use the No. 2 pick on Kalil, who is rated clearly as the top tackle in this year’s draft.
Kalil put on a show in his workout Saturday and even he believes he’s the best at his position.
“I would definitely say I am the best tackle in the draft,” Kalil said. “At my position or quarterback position or any big time position, confidence is definitely a big part of your game and I think they want to hear that you are the best tackle in the draft. I think I am. I think I have definitely worked hard and going through SC, I worked on everything I can to become a better player and I am definitely ready to take my skills to the next level.”
At 6’6, 306 pounds, Kalil cuts the frame of a franchise left tackle. He’s an elite athlete who had little to no trouble in pass protection in his time with the Trojans. Kalil allowed no sacks last season for a Trojans offensive line that gave up just eight the entire season.
That performance combined with his lineage – his brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for Carolina and his father played in the U.S.F.L. – makes Kalil perhaps the most coveted tackle prospect since Jake Long went No. 1 to Miami in 2008.
“I think we will be here and you all will be interviewing one of these players in about 10 years and I think that guy will still be starting 10 years later,” Snead said. “It’s up to him. He’s got to have the want to and go actually make it happen. I do think he’s one of those guys that will start in this league for a long time.”
The question then becomes whether Kalil is a truly elite tackle along the lines of Long or Cleveland’s Joe Thomas. The rate of hits and misses for offensive tackles this decade has been about even when it comes to top 10 picks.
For every Long, there’s been an Andre Smith. For every Thomas, a Robert Gallery. And, like Blackmon, Kalil doesn’t come without his share of questions.
Kalil played most of his career at less than 300 pounds and while that allowed him to remain nimble and athletic in pass protection, it didn’t translate into the running game as well leaving some to wonder if he’s not well-rounded enough to be drafted in the top two or three picks.
That weakness isn’t only perceived by outside pundits, either. Kalil has made it a point in his training at Athletes Performance to put on weight and get stronger in the buildup to the draft.
Kalil weighed in at 306 pounds and says he’d like to get in the 310 pound range.
“I’ve been working on that a lot this offseason,” Kalil said. “I’ve been working over at API on my strength, getting bigger, getting stronger. I think I have definitely made lots of improvements since the end of the season.”
Ultimately, any weaknesses perceived or otherwise are probably picking nits when it comes to Blackmon and Kalil. The Rams’ ultimate decision should they decide not to trade back could come down more to a matter of philosophy and football values than the players themselves.
Even for offensive tackles, the addition of veteran coach Paul Boudreau could be enough to swing the decision.
“We’ve got an outstanding offensive line coach with us as well and we share some of the same philosophies,” Fisher said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t take an offensive lineman that high, though.”
In other words, the Rams have no intention of tipping their hand between now and the draft and all options will remain on the table. Of course, they could still trade down and let other teams settle the debate for them.
-02-25-2012 #2Registered User
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Re: Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, KalilAt his best, Blackmon says he’s run in the 4.4 range, which would be more than enough to solidify his status as a potential top-five pick. But even if he doesn’t Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden would advise teams not to put too much stock into a single 40-yard dash. “Turn on the film,” Weeden said. “The guy pulls away from everybody. You turn on the film and no one catches up to him.”
Re: Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, KalilKalil put on a show in his workout Saturday and even he believes he’s the best at his position.
Re: Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, Kalil
Speaking of putting on a show, Stephen Hill, WR out of Georgia Tech really impressed me. Though he doesn't have the track record of many of the WRs he's competing with (mostly due to the offense he played in), he looked like a sleeper who just woke up. Which means he's probably not a sleeper any longer.
-02-27-2012 #5Registered User
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Re: Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, Kalil
Yeah I haven't heard of hill, but he's being talked as a late 1st, early 2nd now by some people. If we pass on blackmon, hill might be the WR for our 2nd rounder.
Re: Wagoner: Much to Debate Between Blackmon, Kalil
Perhaps the biggest drawback for the Rams were they to draft Hill is that he's pretty raw.
One of the reasons the Combine was an important event for Hill is he doesn't have a lot of game tape to pull from. He only had 28 receptions this year and less than 50 in his career at Georgia Tech. He has the athletic ability but needs work in some other important facets of the game. He's not a guy who is going to come in pro ready and possibly start right out of the gates.
Maybe if the Rams pick up a quality starting-caliber free agent, Hill becomes more appealing because that may afford the Rams more time to groom and develop him. But I think, and I certainly could be wrong, that Hill's the kind of guy who is going to need some time before he can become a regular contributor, especially in the starting line-up.
Still, I had him in the second round coming into the Combine just on talent alone, and I think he solidified that with his athletic performance and perhaps better than expected showing in drills.
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