From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, we’ll be profiling USC CB Mekhi Blackmon.
#6 Mekhi Blackmon, CB, USC (Sr.) — 5110, 178
Senior Bowl / Combine
— Smooth backpedal
— Can turn and run vertically with anyone
— Tons of quality man coverage reps on tape
— Has a ton of experience (35 career games) and it shows in his football IQ and route recognition
— Most comfortable in press man, stays in phase and tight to the hip of WRs
— Good feel in zone, knows limitations will bait throws
— Solid ball skills, high-points ball well in 50/50 situations
— Capable of playing inside and out (30% of snaps played in slot in 2021, per PFF)
— Struggles to click and close on quick breaking routes
— Not as comfortable in off-coverage, footwork gets clunky
— Can be too handsy through the routes, drew 7 penalties in 2022
— Too often was hesitant in the run game, refusing to come downhill
— Bigger, stronger WRs will present issues for him
— 142 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, 5 interceptions, 24 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles in 35 career games
— Led the Pac-12 in passes defended in 2022 (12)
— 2022 Third-team AP All-American
— 2022 First-team All-PAC-12
— 2021 All-PAC-12 Honorable Mention
— Transferred to USC in the spring of 2022 from Colorado
— Started college career at College of San Mateo (JUCO)
— Redshirted in 2019 after four games due to a shoulder injury and missed three games due to injury in 2021
— Working on his master’s degree in gerontology
— Turns 24 on March 18, 2023
— From East Palo Alto, CA and attended Menlo-Atherton High School
— His cousin, KeeSean Johnson, was a wide receiver at Fresno State (2015-18), now on Buffalo Bills
Mekhi Blackmon is an experienced cornerback prospect with a long and winding journey to USC.
After starting his collegiate career at the JUCO program, College of San Mateo, he transferred to Colorado in 2018. There, he battled through injury-riddled seasons in 2019 and 2021 and a COVID-shortened season in 2020. Despite missing three games with Colorado in 2021, he still managed to receive an Honorable Mention Pac-12 nod. His perseverance paid off as he received an opportunity to join the USC program under new head coach, Lincoln Riley. Blackmon’s decision turned out to be a successful one, as he was able to put together a full season in 2022 and was recognized on the AP Third-Team All-American team. His versatility, quick instincts, and aggressive man coverage make him a promising prospect for the NFL Draft.
Let’s take a look at his tape and see what he can bring to the table at the next level.
One of the most impressive aspects of Blackmon’s game is his comfort in man coverage. He looks at ease lining up face-up with a receiver and has a great ability to press routes and stay in tight coverage. His tape is full of impressive man coverage reps, showcasing his ability to stick hip-to-hip with receivers.
In fact, Blackmon received an elite 91.1 coverage grade in 2022 from PFF, and allowed a passer rating of only 46.1, further highlighting his effectiveness in man coverage.
Blackmon’s physical play style is accompanied by a tendency to get grabby with receivers, which could result in frequent flags for illegal contact at the next level. He drew seven flags in 2022 alone. While his physicality is viewed as a strength, he will need to address this to avoid penalties and be a consistent contributor in the NFL.
The other notable issue with Blackmon’s coverage is he struggles to click and close on routes in front of him, especially curls and stop routes. It takes him too many steps to power down and break back to the wide receiver, creating ample separation for them to work.
Blackmon’s ball skills are a notable aspect of his game that will translate well to the NFL. He led the Pac-12 in passes defended with 12 in 2022, demonstrating his ability to disrupt passing lanes. He displays good timing in jumping and high-pointing passes, as evidenced below against Stanford where he’s able to fight off a much larger WR attempting to box him out and tip the ball up to himself for an interception.
The next clip is one of Blackmon’s standout plays on tape and is a perfect showcase of his ball skills and man coverage ability. He matches up against a Utah wide receiver running a post route. Blackmon mirrors the receiver off the line, executes a speed turn at the top of the route, and then exhibits patience before raking through the receiver’s hands at the catch point for an impressive pass breakup in the end zone.
Blackmon’s scheme versatility is evident in his ability to play both man and zone coverage effectively. He is aware of his range and stays within it to make plays on the ball, whether in man or zone. Additionally, he demonstrates the ability to effectively cover the midpoint between two receivers in zone coverage and quickly drive toward the ball once it is in the air.
While Blackmon isn’t ever going to light anyone up with his tackling, he is a reliable one, missing only two tackles all of 2022 with a 2.8% missed tackle rate according to PFF.
At times, Blackmon’s performance in the run game falls short of expectations. In some instances, he appears hesitant and fails to aggressively pursue the ball carrier. This can be problematic for the defense as they may give up big plays due to Blackmon’s reluctance to come downhill. While he certainly has the physical tools to make these types of plays, it appears that he may need to work on the mental aspect of his game in order to consistently do so.
Blackmon’s reluctance to engage in the run game is a significant concern that raises questions about his potential as a full-time slot cornerback in the NFL. Although he saw significant playing time in the slot in 2021, accounting for over 30% of his snaps at Colorado, his limited contributions in run support would need to improve for him to be a reliable option there in the pros.
In conclusion, Mekhi Blackmon is an experienced and versatile cornerback prospect with excellent man coverage skills, as showcased in his tape. He has a smooth backpedal, quick instincts, and an ability to stick tight coverage, making him a promising prospect for the NFL draft. However, Blackmon struggles with click-and-close on quick-breaking routes, footwork in off-coverage, and sometimes hesitates in the run game. Blackmon is also known for being too handsy through routes and drawing penalties. Nonetheless, his ball skills, ability to play inside and out, and zone coverage make him an intriguing option for teams looking to add depth to their secondary.
Despite being 24 years old, Mekhi Blackmon’s versatility and ability to provide quality coverage make him a valuable addition to any team’s CB depth chart. I expect him to be drafted in rounds four or five. Blackmon’s game is similar to former Steelers cornerback William Gay, who was known for his dependability and cerebral play in both the slot and outside. Gay was a reliable player who demonstrated strong route recognition and consistently made significant plays throughout his career. Although he was never a star, Gay was an essential player who rounded out the CB depth chart well.
Although missing out on the top cornerbacks in this year’s draft class would be a letdown for Pittsburgh, selecting Blackmon in the middle rounds could still be a valuable acquisition as they try to replace the versatility that the recently departed Cam Sutton offered.
Projection: Day 3
Depot Draft Grade: 7.2 – Rotational Player (4th Round)
Games Watched: Stanford (2022), UCLA (2022), Utah 1 (2022), Utah 2 (2023), Senior Bowl (2023)