With the 102nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the last pick of the third-round, the Vikings selected Mekhi Blackmon, cornerback, from USC. Blackmon was ranked 185th on the industry consensus board and was the 21st ranked cornerback.
The Vikings traded down with the 49ers from their 87th pick prior to selecting Blackmon, gaining the 102nd, 164th, and 222nd picks in exchange. After the second night of the draft, Vikings’ GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said that he was willing to draft Blackmon at #87 but felt the compensation the 49ers offered to trade down was worth the risk.
Blackmon is a smaller cornerback at 5’11” 178 pounds but has plenty of long speed and quickness for the position. His traits are remarkably similar to Devon Witherspoon, who was the first cornerback drafted, going #5 overall. Blackmon is an older player, however, as he turned 24 in January while Witherspoon is 22. The tests not measured for both players were by choice, not due to injury, so you can read into that what you will.
Blackmon led the Pac-12 in passes defensed in 2022 and was fourth in interceptions. He was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2022.
PFF Profile and Stats
Below are a few leading scouting reports on Blackmon.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
BACKGROUND: Mekhi (muh-kye) Blackmon, who is the oldest of seven children (four boys, three girls), was born in Hayward, Calif., and grew up in the bay area. He originally attended Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., before transferring to Menlo-Atherton High after his sophomore season. Because of transfer rules, Blackmon was forced to sit out his junior season at his new home. As a senior, he emerged as the top receiving target on offense and led Menlo-Atherton to a 12-3 record and the 2016 Division 3-AA state championship game (lost to Paraclete High). Blackmon finished his senior season with 23 receptions for 620 yards (27.0 average) and nine touchdowns, adding 54 tackles, 26 passes defended and six interceptions as a cornerback. He earned honorable mention All-Metro and All-Conference honors as a wide receiver. Blackmon also played basketball on the AAU circuit and at St. Francis but decided to go football-only his final two seasons at Menlo-Atherton.
A no-star recruit, Blackmon wasn’t ranked by online recruiting services, and he went overlooked by Division I programs. He was a full academic qualifier, but missing his junior season because he transferred schools put him behind on the recruiting trail. Blackmon decided to go the juco route and signed with College of San Mateo as a cornerback. An offensively focused player most of his life, he transitioned to cornerback full-time in 2017, leading CSM to the winningest season (11-2) in school history. Blackmon finished his one season at the juco level with 20 tackles and one interception. A three-star juco recruit, he received interest from several West Coast schools, but Colorado was the first to offer, and Blackmon committed in June 2018. After four seasons with the Buffs, he took advantage of the extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic and entered the transfer portal for his sixth season. Blackmon considered offers from Cal and Utah before deciding to join Lincoln Riley in his first season at USC. He graduated with his degree in strategic communication (December 2021) from Colorado and is pursuing his master’s degree in gerontology at USC. His cousin (KeeSean Johnson) was a sixth-round wide receiver (No. 174) in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Fresno State, playing two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before bouncing around several practice squads. Blackmon accepted his invitation to the 2023 Senior Bowl.
STRENGTHS: Adequate speed athlete and tends to play bigger than he appears … instinctive and fluid in his coverage transitions … shows the press strength to disrupt receivers early and late … understands field leverage and uses the sideline to his advantage … shows an instinctive ability to disrupt the catch point and is always raking for the football … started to show more trust in his downfield body positioning deeper into the 2022 season … above-average run defender … settles his feet and comes to balance to wrap and drive the ball carrier … doesn’t get bored, and receivers know they’re in for a dogfight … quickly endeared himself to USC coaches (Riley: “We like him matched up against anybody.”).
WEAKNESSES: Weighed less than 180 pounds at the combine … not a technically sound corner … turns his hips too early and can be driven off the top of routes … gives up too many slants and quick inside wins to receivers because he doesn’t seem to trust his pedal-and-drive mechanics … grabby at the catch point and draws flags with his late panic (penalized five times for pass interference in 2022) … average size will show up against tight ends or larger receivers … was banged up over his career and played in double-digit games only once (2022) in five FBS seasons; missed most of 2019 because of season-ending shoulder surgery … will be 24 years old on draft weekend.
SUMMARY: A one-year starter at USC, Blackmon was the left outside cornerback in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s man-heavy scheme. After four solid seasons at Colorado, he transferred and was one of the few bright spots on the Trojans’ 2022 defense, leading the Pac-12 in passes defended (15). A fluid athlete with average size, Blackmon has seen a lot of football, and it shows with his anticipation and confidence to be disruptive in coverage (allowed only one reception of 20-plus yards on 63 targets in 2022). Though he tends to play too physically, NFL coaches will appreciate his mental and competitive toughness at the position, especially in the run game. Overall, Blackmon will sacrifice coverage phase and attract flags when he doesn’t trust his technique, but he is instinctive and aggressive playing the ball in the air. He projects best on the perimeter with man-to-man responsibilities.
GRADE: 5th-6th Round
Lance Zierlein, nfl.com
Aggressive man-cover cornerback whose physical play brings both passes defensed and penalties. Blackmon gives receivers a rough ride over the first five yards, but his extended grabbing will be less tolerated by NFL officials. He’s capable of phasing routes when matching from press, but he doesn’t have the hips to transition smoothly when playing off-man coverage. He’s talented at squeezing the catch space and timing his challenges, but Blackmon’s lack of size and fluidity could limit his pro chances.
- Has experience playing outside and in the slot.
- Fires quick, accurate strikes into opponent’s chest from press.
- Stays in phase and squeezes tight to the route.
- Consistent finding positioning when recovering or transitioning.
- Tracks and adjusts to deep throws like a wide receiver.
- Well-timed leaps help him get to high point.
- Too tight-hipped to swivel freely and shadow route breaks.
- Needs multiple gather steps to plant and go from his pedal.
- Relies on grab-and-pull defense at the top of the route.
- Could become an illegal-contact machine.
- Big bodies will overtake him on jump balls.
- Below-average play strength as a tackle finisher.
Kyle Crabbs, Draft Network
USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon projects as a scheme-diverse talent at the NFL level. Blackmon illustrates high-end football IQ and has a lot of confidence in his route recognition and technique. A transfer from Colorado, Blackmon took some significant strides forward in 2022 and illustrated a readiness to contribute at the NFL level.
Originally a JUCO product out of the College of San Mateo in San Mateo, California, Blackmon was a 3-star JUCO recruit. He committed to Colorado after also garnering interest from Washington State and San Diego State. Blackmon enjoyed four quiet seasons at Colorado from 2018 through 2021 before transferring to USC and enjoying a breakout campaign for the Trojans. He is the cousin of former Fresno State and NFL wide receiver KeeSean Johnson. Blackmon became a starter for the Buffaloes in 2020, gathering a handful of starts in 2019 before a shoulder injury required surgery and ended his season prematurely. Durability is something to note, as he missed several games in 2021 as well with “soft tissue injuries.”
Man, do I like this guy’s playing style! Blackmon is an instinctual talent who is confident fulfilling any number of coverage assignments, be it in press coverage, off-man, or playing trap coverage and zones. He’s a confident player who plays well above his weight class, too—there’s fearlessness in his striking challenges and he takes aggressive paths to the football. I thought he did incredibly well to save his best for last and take major steps forward in consistency, health, and production for the Trojans in 2022 after spending the majority of his college career with the Buffaloes and flying under the radar on account of limited opportunities and durability concerns. He’s got clean feet—you see him trust his angles at the line of scrimmage and hop release to sustain cushion and then flip and carry. He isn’t going to bully a lot of receivers with physicality, but he remains undeterred to play in your face and I thought his flip-and-carry ability was really good. Whether he’s capping routes and plastering back down the route stem or speed-turning to work back into the body and squeeze on vertical challenges, Blackmon was sticky against most receivers in 2022.
His ball skills are a big plus with the ball in the air as well. He rakes at the football to pop it straight into the air if he is playing on the body of a receiver, but in zone situations, he tracks the football very well and made several big plays on the ball in this regard.
With that said, he isn’t a perfect player, and his size and build are the catalysts of a number of shortcomings. He can be overwhelmed at times in the contact window by bigger players and that will only compound in the NFL. His reaction at times was to grab, as evidenced by a significant number of flags called against his coverages. But it also pops up in the run game, where some teams will find conflict in knowing that he’s not physical and dense enough to shine as an outside player in press-heavy systems but he’s also not a great match to tackle and fill the D-gap as a run support player to play in the nickel. Some teams may struggle to find confidence in a home for him as a result. But there’s one thing that I know: this dude can cover.
Expectations for Blackmon should have him playing significant defensive snaps for an NFL franchise in 2023. Blackmon can play man, he can play zone, he’s got good ball skills, and he can strike. His stature will make him a role-specific player for some teams, but I would expect a player with this kind of coverage skills will be hard to keep off the field for too long.
Top Reasons to Buy In:
- High-level football IQ in variety of coverages
- Good ball skills with the ball in the air
- Aggressive mentality in coverage to trigger and attack
- Striker as a tackler
Top Reasons For Concern:
- Functional strength is not a big plus as a leaner athlete on the edge
- Run-fit tackling is something that may limit his ability to play inside
- Stature may be a disqualifier to playing outside for some schemes
- Durability is in question with significant time missed in two of the last four seasons
Grade: 76.50/100 (third-round value)
Breakdown of Mekhi Blackmon
USC Defense (Blackmon #6) vs. Notre Dame (2022)
USC Defense (Blackmon #6) vs. UCLA (2022)
USC Defense (Blackmon #6) vs. Utah (2022)
USC Defense (Blackmon #6) vs. Washington State (2022)
USC Defense (Blackmon #6) vs. Stanford (2022)
Fit with the Vikings
Mekhi Blackmon will compete for a starting outside cornerback job opposite, most likely Andrew Booth Jr.. Blackmon has a lot of experience and production in his college career at Colorado and USC and had the 3rd best PFF coverage grade and 4th best overall PFF grade among cornerbacks in college football last season, so he is as NFL-ready as you can expect for a rookie cornerback.
Blackmon played mostly press-man coverage snaps last season at USC, which makes him a good fit for Brian Flores’ coverage scheme. His smaller frame is not ideal as a run defender, but he did grade well in run defense and as a tackler last season at USC. I would not be surprised if Blackmon won a starting job this season.
What level will Mekhi Blackmon reach in the NFL?
This poll is closed
Top ten in his position
Above average starter
Below average starter
He won’t be a starter