Today I begin the first installment of my series previewing the top college prospects that the Panthers may be looking to select in the 2012 NFL Draft. It's never too early to start talking about the draft; we all know it's value in building franchises.
Panthers' Current Draft Position: 5-11
This time, we're going to take a look at Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who is one of the top receiver prospects of the upcoming draft.
Strengths: Blackmon is an elite prospect because of his wide range of capabilities as a receiver. There aren't many aspects of his game that stick out compared to the rest and that is a huge positive. Leaving NFL defensive coordinators with less to exploit will make him an effective player.
Like the former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, Blackmon has a great set of hands. You'll rarely see him drop any catchable pass and every once in a while, he'll make a spectacular grab to let you know how special he is. In face, this may be his biggest strength.
While Blackmon's size is only slightly above average—6'1" and 211 lbs—he plays the deep ball extremely well. He'll go up with the most athletic corners and make a tough catch look routine. His leaping ability matches any of this year's top prospects at the position.
However, when Blackmon does a large amount of his damage is after the catch. Once he reels in a pass, he turns into a running back. He isn't going to dance much or make the lateral cut that irritates football fans on a weekly basis. He has a good awareness of where the first down marker is and has the strength and body size to stretch for that extra yard.
Blackmon takes some flack for his route running skills, but my opinion is that it is unwarranted.
He is a developing route runner who seems very smooth at this stage. He doesn't always burst out of his cuts, but he finds a way to get open. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly he does to be such an effective route runner, but the proof is in the pudding. Blackmon consistently puts up gaudy statistics against great opposing cornerbacks.
Weaknesses: Blackmon doesn't have the blazing speed that some of today's elite receivers do or a huge frame either.
This can limit his capabilities in some scenario's and also proves to put him at a disadvantage when run blocking. When he gets lazy, he doesn't have the dominating size to compensate for it, so forcing him to focus as a blocker will be key to his ability to remain on the field as much as possible.
Why the Panthers Should Draft Him: The Panthers would be very fortunate to land Blackmon in the upcoming draft. While receiver isn't their chief area of concern, they need to think about replacing Steve Smith down the road and also adding another dimension to this offense.
Legedu Naanee has not lived up to the coaching staff's hopes and Blackmon could step in day one and become a star for Carolina. His production is undeniable and if he can bring his dependability to the professional level, he has the potential to be a highly respected player for the next decade.
Blackmon is a hard worker and sturdy player. He would be a great guy to have in the locker room and could build a great relationship with Cam Newton, forming a combination that would have the ability to be one of the most productive ever.