Justin Blackmon was the fifth overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2012 NFL draft, which made him the highest selected wide receiver that year and the highest drafted Oklahoma State player since Barry Sanders.
The Jaguars were in dire need of a wide receiver after a year in which guys like Jason Hill and Chastin West were starters. The wide receiver corps was one of the worst in the history of the NFL. The front office was essentially signing guys off the street and starting them the following Sunday. It was an abysmal situation at the position.
Enter Justin Blackmon, who had been absolutely dominant during his tenure at Oklahoma State. The talent was undeniable. NFL draft experts salivated over his abilities. NFL.com’s Mike Mayock said Blackmon was the best he had ever seen when it comes to elevating over defenders to snag the football. He also mentioned how he is powerful, explosive, and that he attacks defenders.
Blackmon is a guy who plays with an edge and has a nasty demeanor. When he lines up at the line of scrimmage, he knows the guy he is staring at cannot guard him. For example, during the 2011 season, Oklahoma State played Nebraska, led by All-American cornerback Prince Amukamara. Blackmon dominated Amukamara all game, highlighted by a flea-flicker play in which he froze the cornerback on a hesitation move and burned him for an 80 yard touchdown.
Blackmon was also a two-time Biletnikoff award winner, which goes to the nation’s top wide receiver (he won the award over both A.J. Green and Julio Jones in 2010). During his final two collegiate seasons, he amassed 224 receptions for over 3,100 yards and a whopping 35 scores. Going into the 2012 NFL draft, Blackmon was considered one of the most NFL-ready prospects available.
It seemed like the perfect fit for the Jaguars. The selection was applauded by most of the fan base and infused a bit of excitement into the franchise. The Jaguars had just selected one of the flashiest players in college football.
The excitement floundered a month later when Blackmon was arrested on an aggravated DUI charge after blowing a .24 during a breathalyzer test, which is more than three times the legal limit. He ended up pleading guilty, which allowed him to avoid jail time, and ended up having to serve a given amount of community service hours as punishment. However, he was not punished by the league. Blackmon vowed that he was done drinking for the time being and was focusing his energy on the upcoming football season.
However, just 11 months later, Blackmon was in trouble again, and this time, the league was not willing to give him a pass. The wide receiver had violated the league’s substance abuse policy and has been suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season. While the substance of choice was not specifically made known, Blackmon claims he does not have a drug problem.
“If you want to ask if I have a problem? I have a problem with making a poor decision,” Blackmon told the Associated Press during Organized Team Activities in May.
While the Jaguars had a horrific 2012 season, Blackmon was one of the few bright spots. He had racked up 64 receptions, which lead all rookies, and hauled in five touchdowns (which would have been six if Guy Whimper knew how to block without holding). He was, and still is, a guy the Jaguars that can contribute at a high level. However, the two off-field incidents give Jaguars fans a bad case of déjà vu.
For those who are unaware, the Jaguars have had terrible luck when it comes to wide receivers. Outside of Jimmy Smith, who was a great player for the club for a decade and a potential hall of famer, the investments at the position have not paid off.
In 2000, they drafted R. Jay Soward out of USC with their first round selection. Soward had tremendous athletic ability and had the potential to be a big-time NFL player. However, he crumbled under the pressure that comes with being a first round pick and openly admitted that he wished he was drafted by another team. It also did not help that he failed the league’s substance abuse policy on a number of occasions. In just one NFL season, Soward caught a mere 14 passes.
In 2004, the team drafted Reggie Williams, who was projected to go late-first, early-second round, with the 9th overall pick. Outside of his 2007 season, Williams was a huge disappointment. Many receivers have celebration dances after scoring a touchdown. Reggie Williams conducted celebration dances after two-yard receptions. He constantly frustrated fans with his less-than-stellar play. He was released by the team following the 2008 season. He now plays football in the CFL.
In 2005, the team drafted quarterback-turned-receiver Matt Jones out of Arkansas in the first round. While Jones had a more productive career than Williams, he still did not live up to those first round expectations. He also was arrested on two different occasions for the drug-related activity. He was subsequently released by the team in 2009.
Fans are reminded of these three situations when hearing the news of Blackmon’s off-field troubles. They know he’s one more failed drug test or DUI away from being suspended for an entire season. He has had his “two strikes.” A third could be career-defining.
While many have felt let down by Blackmon, new head coach Gus Bradley has not lost faith in the talented receiver.
“I’m not going to change who I am, so I trust him,’’ Bradley told Vito Stellino of the Florida Times Union. “He’s never done anything wrong with me. It’d be different if I was talking to him and I didn’t feel like we were connecting at all. I do feel a connection.’’
Bradley also says he has regular “talks” with Blackmon.
“It’s not every morning, but it’s not me calling him. I’m sitting in there and he knocks and says, ‘Gus, can I visit with you?’ He sits down and we visit,’’ he said.
It is certainly a good thing that Blackmon does have somebody to talk to in Coach Bradley. While there are no excuses for his poor decision making, Blackmon is still only 23 years-old. He is a 23 year-old guy who is not even two years removed from college, and has millions of dollars. It does not help that he moved to a new city where he knows nobody.
Blackmon is not known entirely for making off-field mistakes. He also scores metaphoric “touchdowns.”
In 2011, he had a well-documented friendship with Olivia Hamilton, a young girl who was undergoing leukemia treatment at the time. Blackmon met her at a “Coaches vs. Cancer” charity basketball game and the two have been inseparable ever since. He would often visit her at the hospital, get her tickets to OSU football games, and hang out with her just to hang out with her. He rocked her “’Liv’ Laugh Love” pink rubber bracelet during his collegiate games in her honor. He even invited the entire Hamilton family to New York City for the 2012 NFL draft festivities. It is worth noting that Hamilton had completed her last chemotherapy treatment in Aug. 2012.
Blackmon needs to realize that he’s at a crossroads in his career and must pick and choose who is in his circle wisely. The talent is there. If he can put these distracting situations behind him, form a solid support group, and focus his efforts on becoming a better football player, the sky is the limit. He has the potential to be one of the best offensive players in the NFL – if he wants to be.
It is up to him now. He needs to make a decision of who he wants to be and what he needs to do to achieve it. The ball is in his court.