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Player Spotlight: Justin Blackmon

A detailed look at Justin Blackmon's fantasy prospects for 2013

Collegiate Dominance, Immediate Opportunity and Questionable Decisions

Justin Blackmon won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best collegiate receiver in 2010 and then he pulled off the rarest of feats by winning the award again in 2011. The 6'1", 207 lbs. physical dynamo was a class above the rest of the Big 12 and profiled as a can't miss NFL prospect. Likened by some to Anquan Boldin, the offensive-starved Jaguars moved up to select Blackmon with the 5th overall draft pick in the 2012 draft. There was little question Blackmon would be given an immediate opportunity to start, which made him one of the most attractive rookie receivers to target.

Unfortunately his rookie season didn't get off to the start most hoped. Blackmon was arrested for DUI in the summer before training camp, and reportedly had a blood alcohol level more than 3x the legal limit.  The fact Blackmon was so intoxicated combined with this being his second DUI arrest in three years raised grave concerns that his unquestionable physical abilities would be derailed by his highly questionable off-the-field decisions. 

An uneven training camp further eroded the confidence many had in the rookie, and as a result Blackmon fell down fantasy draft boards and was considered little more than an end of the roster option. For the first half of the season, Blackmon barely registered on the fantasy radar. In the first nine games, Blackmon fell short of 50 yards receiving all all but one contest, and scored just one touchdown. Ho Hum.

And then the light switch went on. Over the final eight games, Blackmon caught 41 receptions for 640 yards and 4 touchdowns. Pro-rated over a full season that equates to 82 receptions for 1,280 yards and 8 touchdowns -- in other words, fantasy WR1 production. In spite of the very slow start, Blackmon ended the season with 64 receptions for 865 yards and 5 touchdowns. That might not seem like a major accomplishment, but consider that only eight rookie WRs have registered at least 60 catches, 800 yards and 5 touchdowns over the last decade.

RankFirstLastYearRecsRecYdsYPRTDsFPTs
1 Justin Blackmon 2012 64 865 13.52 5 118.8
2 A.J. Green 2011 65 1057 16.26 7 153.0
3 Mike Williams 2010 65 964 14.83 11 162.4
4 Eddie Royal 2008 91 980 10.77 5 138.9
5 Dwayne Bowe 2007 70 995 14.21 5 129.5
6 Marques Colston 2006 70 1038 14.83 8 151.8
7 Michael Clayton 2004 80 1193 14.91 7 164.3
8 Anquan Boldin 2003 101 1377 13.63 8 188.7

New Coach, Same Quarterback

When you consider that Blackmon was catching passes from Blaine Gabbert for the majority of his rookie season, his accomplishments go from impressive to awe-inspiring. The Jaguars offense ranked 30th in points scored and 29th in yards last year, and changes had to be made in the offseason.  Head coach Mike Mularkey was fired in favor of Gus Bradley, the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator. Bradley hired Jedd Fisch to re-shape the offense and Fisch's toughest task will be deciding whether Gabbert is the quarterback of the future or whether journeyman Chad Henne is the better alternative (Henne is a safe option but would bring zero upside with him into the huddle). 

Better Supporting Cast

Neither Fisch nor Gabbert are proven assets, and they'll have a disproportionate influence on whether Blackmon builds off his strong rookie season. Yet, there are other factors that are a bit more encouraging.  Foremost is the return of RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew, if healthy, completely reshapes a Jaguars ground game that finished 30th in yards and 29th in TDs a year ago. On the offensive line, the Jaguars drafted Luke Joeckel 2nd overall and he should anchor the right side of the line for years to come. Combined, MJD and Joeckel should help add balance and sustainability to an offense that was more hit than miss in 2012.  

How to handle the 4-game suspension?

Blackmon is suspended for the first four games of this season in violation of the league's substance abuse program. A month-long absence to start the year takes a bite out of Blackmon's fantasy value, particularly since that represents roughly 33% of most fantasy owner's regular season. How far should you discount Blackmon as a result? In my view not very much. If Blackmon was set to play the entire season, he would profile as a possible mid-tier fantasy WR2 at worst. My recommendation? If he's still available when you're targeting your WR3, go ahead and draft him. Just make sure your WR4 is a sure bet to receive significant playing time in the first month (in other words target a veteran starter instead of taking another flier on a young player whose role is yet to be finalized). 

Positives

  • Blackmon is a physically imposing receiver with the ability to run a complete route tree
  • In spite of a slow start, Blackmon delivered a rookie season that ranks among the very best of the last decade
  • Over his final eight games, Blackmon was on pace for 80+ receptions, 1,200+ yards and 8 touchdowns
  • The re-emergence of Maurice Jones-Drew and improvements on the offensive line will provide more stability and balance to an offense that rarely sustained drives last year

Negatives

  • Blackmon may have a substance abuse issue, and is one violation away from a year-long suspension
  • He'll be suspended for the first four games of this season, so it's imperative that you draft a strong WR4 to play in his stead if you roll the dice on Blackmon
  • New OC Jedd Fisch is unproven
  • The quarterback situation looks tenuous, at best
  • Cecil Shorts emerged last year as a dominant weapon in his own right, but it's hard to imagine the Jaguars passing game will consistent enough to make both players every week fantasy stars

Final Thoughts

Justin Blackmon's poor decision may work in your favor. Based on early ADP data, many fantasy owners are scared to pull the trigger on Blackmon in spite of an excellent rookie season. The simple truth is you cannot win competitive fantasy leagues without taking shots at greatness, and Blackmon is the perfect WR to target as your WR3 because he has legitimate WR1 upside when he returns from a 4-game suspension. The only downside to drafting Blackmon is the need to ensure that your WR4 is a viable fantasy starter, too. As long as the Jaguars new coaching staff isn't completely inept, there's no reason to think Justin Blackmon can't help you win your fantasy league this year, particularly if his current ADP remains and you can target him as your WR3 or WR4. 

Projections

  GAMES REC RECYD TD
Jason Wood 12 60 800 6
David Dobbs 12 62 825 5

Other Viewpoints

Dave Richard from CBS Sports reports on Blackmon's comments on the suspension.

Meeting with the media, Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon apologized for making a poor decision when he violated the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and said he's "very confident" he would never made another poor decision again. He added that he does not have a drinking or substance problem.

Bracie Smathers from the Shark Pool thinks Blackmon can put up comparable numbers in 2013 even while playing 4 games less.

Considering his slow start last year for the first three games where he produced virtually nothing I see this year's suspension as basically equal to his slow start to his rookie season so I see basically the exact same numbers that he produced last year. Projections of 65 receptions, 865 yards, 5 or 6 touchdowns.

Jonathan Balles at Rotoviz gives some hard evidence of why you should be targeting Justin Blackmon

One of the reasons I like to grab suspended players is that most owners seem to rank them according to their adjusted overall projected points when they should be concerned with points per game. It’s not like you can’t start anyone in the place of a suspended player; you get the points for a replacement player.

It’s not easy to pull the trigger on a suspended player, especially when you need to take him in the first 10 rounds. But based on the numbers, both Gordon and Blackmon are going to be excellent values throughout the summer. They’re admittedly risky options, but you aren’t going to find many wide receivers in the 30s and 40s who have legitimate WR1 potential when they’re in the lineup. If you put yourself in a position to minimize the downside of their absences, both Gordon and Blackmon can offer unprecedented upside and value in the middle rounds.

John Kerwin at The Fake Football discusses Blackmon playing in the slot.

The move to the slot was vital for Blackmon; 503 of his total receiving yards on the year came from the slot, and his 1.72 YPRR from the slot was good for 8th overall in the NFL this year. Crossing routes and finding open holes to sit in really boosted Blackmon’s production and camouflaged his weaknesses that were unavoidable playing on the outside. The emergence of Cecil Shorts as a deep ball threat really opened up the middle of the field for Blackmon too. This helped to get the ball in his hands while he was in full stride, and didn’t leave him having to try and create his own separation and make cuts after the catch. This is where Blackmon was able to utilize his strength and break a few tackles that created some big plays for his team. His YAC were nonexistent early in the year, and that changed drastically with his transition within the offense.


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