Fans and media members clamoring for the Packers to add another pass-catching weapon with the 30th pick make a valid argument, as the Aaron Rodgers era is rapidly approaching the home stretch. But if an exceptional athlete falls their way — in the form of fleet-footed defensive tackle Ross Blacklock — Brian Gutekunst may have to reevaluate any preconceived thoughts of targeting the offensive side of the ball.
“Fleet-footed” is a rarely-used term as it pertains to interior linemen, but the descriptor in this case fits, considering Blacklock’s recent 4.90 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine — an extraordinary feat on its own for a large athlete hovering very close to 300 pounds.
But straight-line speed isn’t the only jaw-dropping trait that have several pundits projecting him as a late first-round pick, as his lateral movement is also something to behold.
The former TCU Horned Frog’s lateral quickness to flow inside-out when infiltrating the pocket is a rare trait seen in a 0 or 1-technique defender, who’s primary task is to hold up blockers in order to let second-level linebackers and safeties swoop in and tackle the ball carrier.
The reason Blacklock was able to execute the types of plays that featured his side-to-side agility was due to his ability to get off blocks.
The redshirt junior’s balance rarely saw him get pushed back, while his heavy hands — combined with his lower-body quickness — allowed him to slide off his man.
His 9.75-inch mitts are just as fast as they are strong, and that’s key when it comes to striking the offensive linemen first and preventing him from getting inside Blacklock’s chest.
Technique-wise, the Big 12 product would frequently attack the inside or outside shoulder (also known as half-a-man) of his blocker, which proved effective in gaining separation and penetrating the line of scrimmage.
As a pure two-gap run stuffer, Blacklock knows all about digging in his heels, staying low and standing his ground. His superior balance versus double-teams enabled No. 90 to fill running lanes and force the ball carrier to change course.
On the flip side, the 300-pound power pig, while versatile and scheme diverse, can get engulfed versus long-armed offensive tackles when attacking the edge and can also get thrown off on end-arounds and play fakes. In fact, there are times when he zeroes in on the quarterback and doesn’t see the oncoming blocker who’ll sweep him off his feet.
At the next level, he’ll also need to work on his consistency, as there are times when he appears to let up, which may be be nothing more than a conditioning issue.
Overall, Blacklock is the type of quick and powerful lineman who should see lots of snaps as a starter and is at his best as the aggressor by taking it to blockers rather than hanging back and holding his space, although he can perform the latter as well.
In terms of a comp, Blacklock profiles as a Grady Jarrett type who has the same build, along with similarly using great quickness and leverage to win battles inside.
Currently, the Packers aren’t very deep across the defensive line, with Kenny Clark standing out as the lone difference maker along the interior. Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster are (ideally) rotational pieces, who work hard, but can’t be expected to contribute many splash plays.
Montravius Adams, on the other hand, has been an utter no-show, while Kingsley Keke has intriguing skills, but seems like more of a quick, athletic performer — which is fantastic — but not much of a power lineman who can be consistently effective versus the run.
The bottom line here is that a player with Blacklock’s skill set is needed and should see immediate playing time on a defense that has ranked 23rd versus the run in back-to-back seasons. One can contend that Mike Pettine’s unit actually regressed in that area in 2019, when factoring in that the Packers gave up nearly 9 yards more on a per-game basis (128.7 versus 119.9) last year compared to 2018.
Yes, Blacklock alone won’t be enough to improve that deficiency, but he can be a significant part of the puzzle with newcomer Christian Kirksey in place and (perhaps) other young linebackers to follow via the draft.
And the fact that Clark is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of his 2020 campaign is even more reason to invest in the type of prospect with the upside to possibly take over as Green Bay’s primary inside enforcer if the 2016 first-round pick flies the coop.——————
When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.