The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Jim Rueda

April 25, 2012

Rueda: Time might be right for Vikes to go deep

Editor’s note: This is the last of three columns leading up to today’s first round of the NFL Draft. Free Press staff writer Chad Courrier offered his opinion on Friday and Shane Frederick did the same on Tuesday.

It’s the annual who-will-the-Vikings-pick column by our sports staff and, as the last guy to make a prediction, my hands are somewhat tied. Colleague Chad Courrier has already thrown his support behind USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil and Shane Frederick went with cornerback Morris Claiborne of LSU on Tuesday.

It’s hard to go wrong with the Vikings this year as they could use some help at just about every position. After Kalil and Claiborne, however, the obvious choice has to be Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder needs weapons and Blackmon has the physical talent to make him a potential stud in the NFL. He could be for Minnesota what Calvin Johnson is to Detroit or Greg Jennings is to Green Bay.

The scouting report on Blackmon is almost all positive. Sure, he needs to improve his route-running and blocking skills (what incoming receiver doesn’t?) and maybe he lacks the initial burst off the line that some receivers have, but he excels in almost every other area.

The scouts say he has good size at 6-feet-1, 207 pounds, doesn’t take plays off, is able to fight through jams at the line of scrimmage, has good hands and possesses the kind of body control that allows him to make acrobatic catches. Blackmon also has above-average speed (4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and is considered extremely dangerous in the open field.

Last year Blackmon caught 121 passes for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns. The year before, he hauled in 111 passes for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns.

One scouting report describes him as a “more athletic version of Baltimore Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin.” Considering Boldin made a significant impact as a rookie and has been a premiere receiver for a number of years, that’s pretty high praise.

Another scouting report notes that Blackmon has a tendency to “come up huge in big games.” What NFL team doesn’t want a guy who is considered a big-time playmaker?

Wide receivers are always a gamble on draft day, particularly when you’re talking about the No. 3 pick overall, but Blackmon has the resume to warrant it. If defenses have to start paying attention to Blackmon, Percy Harvin is going to be that much more productive. And that, in turn, will improve the running game, as well.

I’m confident Blackmon will be a star in the NFL. The only question is, which team will be fortunate enough to nab him?

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com.

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