The Cincinnati Bengals have always been fond of talented cornerbacks. In the Marvin Lewis era, the team used five first round selections at the position of a total of 17 picks—a 29% rate at that position alone.
Zac Taylor’s group hasn’t utilized first round capital in a similar way, but the team has found savvy deals in free agency with players like Chidobe Awuzie, Eli Apple, Mike Hilton, and Sidney Jones while supplementing them with the likes of 2022 second-round pick, Cam Taylor-Britt.
Awuzie is coming back from a season-ending knee injury, and while Taylor-Britt took nice strides last season, there might be some need. Whether it’s in a bit of positional turnover, or adding depth, Cincinnati is always on the prowl for cornerback talent.
An intriguing, albeit unheralded prospect lurks in the later rounds of this year’s class. Age and a much splashier redshirt senior season bring questions, but former Colorado and USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon could get attention from a lot of teams.
Weight: 178 pounds
Year: Senior (Redshirt)
40-Yard Dash: 4.47
Draft Projection: Middle of Day 3
Blackmon started off at the University of Colorado. While there is some good tape on him there, he never played more than eight games in a given season, nor did he notch more than one interception per year.
Much like so many talented collegiate athletes around the U.S., USC became a transfer haven in 2022 when Lincoln Riley took over. Blackmon bolted west to join the Trojans and enjoyed a renaissance.
He seemed to play much more confidently and was a starter in all 14 contests last year. It translated to three interceptions, 12 passes defended, a fumble recovery, and even two tackles for loss.
Unfortunately for Blackmon, USC’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball and Tuli Tuipulotu being the supposed lone shining star of the unit, cast the redshirt senior into the background. But, when digging deeper into his tape, you see a high-effort player who has a knack for being around the ball.
Of course, seeing growth as a senior and with a program that had stability last year is a good sign for any player—such was the case with Blackmon. When you triple your production in a couple of major statistical categories for cornerbacks (interceptions and passes defended) that’s also an obvious sign of great improvement.
Blackmon also had a 90.6 overall Pro Football Focus score last year, while also being credited with the allowance of one touchdown reception in 2022. These scores translate from his incredibly active nature seen on film.
While his play borders on reckless at times, Blackmon is physical, stayed with most receivers he covered and just seemed to always be around the ball—especially in 2022. Frankly, if I was an opposing receiver, I’d be incredibly frustrated going up against him, given his constant presence.
Additionally, Blackmon has collegiate experience in the slot and on the boundary. Throw in a decent 40 time and you’ve got a guy with tools.
Unfortunately, Blackmon’s aggressiveness is also his worst enemy. He is known to be “grabby” and the concern at the next level is that he’ll attract a number of illegal contacts, pass interference and/or defensive holding penalties.
And, despite the speed on the 40, his other metrics show a mixed bag, in terms of positional traits. Is he better suited to play inside as a slot with his physicality and preference for man coverage, or can he be a boundary guy?
To that point, zone coverage—something Lou Anarumo asks of his corners—isn’t the top strength of Blackmon. And, unfortunately, age plays a role in his draft status.
A potential pegging for the slot and/or issues on the boundary pushes him to a Day 3 corner that provides upside for a spot starter. Still, Blackmon’s tape is fun to watch. He is really active and mauls receivers, for better or worse.
Blackmon isn’t a guy who will enter training camp as a Day 1 starter, but will likely be an immediate valuable asset to the back end of a cornerback group. While that sounds good, in terms of likely draft value, the dichotomy resides in his age.
That said, Blackmon is a guy who possesses a lot of skills that coaches covet. It’s just up to those same coaches to give tips in the arena of penalty avoidance at the pro level.