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Utah’s Julian Blackmon made smooth transition to safety, next stop is the NFL

All-American expected to get drafted despite knee injury.

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Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) celebrates after running back a pick-six during the second half of the Utah-BYU game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.

Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Julian Blackmon certainly doesn’t lack confidence. After recording an interception in his third consecutive regular-season game over the 2018 and 2019 seasons, the Utah safety felt like it was a streak he could easily keep alive.

“I think so. Honestly, I think so. I think that I have the ability to,” Blackmon said at the time. “I think that as long as I game-plan the way that I have been, I think that’s a possibility for me to do every game.”


Utah Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) celebrates his interception with Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Blackmon’s run of picks included a pair of interception returns for touchdowns against BYU — a 39-yard score as a senior and a 27-yarder as a junior.

Although Blackmon didn’t record interceptions in every game last season, he did tie for the Pac-12 lead with four by season’s end. The former Layton High star earned All-America accolades from the AFCA, Associated Press, Phil Steele, Pro Football Focus, Sports Illustrated and The Athletic. He received all-conference recognition for the third consecutive year — making the first team in 2019 — despite switching positions from cornerback to safety. The transition, obviously, was quite successful. It included adding 15 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame, bulking him up to 204.

“He’s got the complete package for a safety and he only played it one year. He’s got range. He’s got ball skills,” said defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “He’s probably the best tackler that I’ve ever coached, the most efficient tackler that I’ve ever coached. That’s saying something, right, having come from corner to safety and having to put on 15 pounds.”

Scalley noted that Blackmon’s versatility should make him a valuable commodity at the next level.

“He’s just got such a high ceiling that NFL position coaches are going to really, really like him,” Scalley said.

A noncontact knee injury in the second quarter of Utah’s Pac-12 championship game loss to Oregon brought an abrupt end to Blackmon’s career with the Utes. The MVP of the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl wound up making 158 tackles (118 solo) over 48 games. He finished with nine interceptions, 8.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and 29 passes defended.

“Unfortunately he had the injury at the end of the season. But he made the transition from corner to safety without missing a beat,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s obvious, at least to us, that’s where he belongs and that’s where his future is at the next level.”

Blackmon, he continued, is a “deadly tackler.” Whittingham said Blackmon does many things well and has outstanding ball skills.

“But in my estimation the way that he tackles is what is really going to be a benefit to an NFL team,” Whittingham noted.

Although Blackmon was unable to participate in any drills or timings, he was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine — joining eight of his Utah teammates at the annual predraft showcase in Indianapolis to meet with prospective employers.

An overview of Blackmon on NFL.com said that the move to safety clearly gives him his best chance to make it as a pro.

“The former cornerback has soft hands and carryover route-anticipation that should allow him to match against tight ends as a pro. He can play split safety, big nickel or help support the run as a down safety,” wrote analyst Lance Zierlin. “His field recognition and angles to the football are still behind from his new position, but he should keep getting better. His December knee injury will push him down the draft board, but he has the traits and talent to make it in the league.”

Less than a week before the draft, Blackmon explained via Twitter while he has declined to do media interviews about his situation.

“If you’ve asked me to do a story my reason for not doing them is simple! Not to be rude, but I don’t need my story told to the world. I’m here to play football,” he tweeted. “If those things come while I make history so be it. But I don’t need someone else to narrate who I am. I got that.”

•. •. •

What they’re saying about Julian Blackmon ... 

NFL.COM: “Good backup could become a starter.”

BLEACHER REPORT: 4th round, 110th overall — New York Giants

CBS SPORTS: 4th round, 123rd overall — Dallas Cowboys

DRAFTTEK: 4th round, 145th overall — Philadelphia Eagles

PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK: 5th round, 155th overall — Miami Dolphins 

SPORTING NEWS: 4th round, 139th overall — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

USA TODAY: 5th round, 170th overall — Baltimore Ravens