My roster evaluation series focusing on reserve players that earned some significant playing time for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 continues with the spotlight pointed on defensive back Robert Blanton.

Blanton has the size at 6’1 200 pounds that you look for in versatile defensive back. Mike Zimmer likes length and Blanton certainly has that with 31 1/4 inch arms that he uses extremely well especially when playing the run.

Blanton was one of the top high school cornerbacks in the country and went on to play in 50 of 51 games for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He finished his NCAA career with eight interceptions, 19.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and nearly 200 total tackles.

Blanton has above average agility but lacks blazing straight line speed. Upon drafting the cornerback in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, the Vikings converted him to safety. But, with the injury bug hitting the cornerback position in 2013, the Vikings were forced to use Blanton as a nickel corner for 275 snaps compared to only 128 snaps at safety.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, while playing the safety position, Blanton only gave up 2 receptions, 0 touchdowns and a 28.6 completion percentage in his coverage. At the cornerback spot he gave up 23 reception, 2 touchdowns, a 76.7 completion percentage and a quarterback rate of 126.8. How does that compare to fellow Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford? Sanford has a higher overall PFF grade logging 809 snaps while giving up 19 receptions, 3 touchdowns, with an 82.6 completion percentage and a QB rate of 133.2.

My opinion on Blanton runs hot and cold. In the week 15 game vs the Philadelphia Eagles,  Blanton struggled to turn and stay in tight pass coverage against the quicker Eagles’ wide receivers (he was even beaten over the top for TD by a TE). During the week 17 game vs the Detroit Lions, he looked much better and his solid tackling ability almost makes me think he could make an adequate starting safety teamed up next to Harrison Smith.

Blanton plays with good phyicality and lateral movement and can make plays when lined up in the box. He uses his arms very well to fight through blocks and shed defenders. Blanton is a high effort player displaying aggressiveness and a competitive fire on every play.

In the Lions game he flashed his ability as a effective long armed tackler. In the clip below, Blanton sheds his blocker and snags the ballcarrier with little more than his arms. When the play began, Blanton was lined up outside of the picture frame but his good instinct and lateral movement made him a factor in the play. Even with a pesky slot reciever in his face, Blanton was able get to the hole. You can’t tell by the clips, but this was a bang bang play that looked like it was going to pop for big yards. Reggie gained 6 yards on the play, but was he really robbed of a big play by the “Long Arm of the Law”? armed

The Lion’s tailback tries to redirect and move away from #36 Robert Blanton, but his wingspan proves to be to much as Blanton and Erin Henderson make a big play in the backfield.blanton run

Blanton is one of the Vikings most effective DBs when it comes to defending screen plays and short dump offs. In the clip  below, the dangerous and explosive Reggie Bush catches the ball in space and has some blockers out front. Off to the races right? Not so fast,  Blanton shows his willingness and toughness to fight through a block and make a play. My question; why does it take so long for Sanford to shed his block? This is the kind of play that doesn’t hurt Sanford’s overall grade at PFF, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by me.

blanton screen

Blanton’s best attributes are his size, attitude and toughness.  He plays “like” a scrappy boundery press man corner, the  problem is he doesn’t have good press man coverage skill and can get beat over the top too often.

As a safety he has the size and great tackling ability coaches covet in a defensive back. However, questionably closing speed along with a lack of big hitting potential taper my enthusiasum for Blanton’s development as a quality NFL starting safety. With that said, I do like his physicality, sure tackling, good fundamentals and accurate angles when pursuing plays. The question is, can Zimmer turn Blanton into something special?

Blanton should get his fair share of first team reps at safety during OTAs and camp this season. Certainly his experience at nickel last year will benefit his development as a safety this season. If Blanton wants to see more game action, he will need to prove he can get his hands on some passes in preseason.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Not likely to be “special” per se, but a serviceable Safety that can be a third deep defender in a hybrid defensive look or can give Smith and the other starter a break if needed. His ability to play a little CB (albeit not well at this level) adds to his value. A “keeper” by all accounts!

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  2. He’s still young and played out of position, like Josh Robinson. If he can be used solely as a safety I see him being Sanford’s replacement in 2 years;once Sanford’s contract runs out. I see them being pretty similar in what they bring, but Blanton can maybe develop superior coverage skills, Sanford’s development has probably peaked. If Robinson can stay outside hopefully he will become better as well. That would bode well for our young secondary. Nice write up as well Carl. I’ve liked the ones I’ve read. Your pictures don’t show our LB’ers in a very good light. Henderson is getting gobbled up in the first photos. Greenway has lost the ball and looks like he’s still dropping into coverage in the next set, although if Henderson makes the tackle he had to defeat his block, so that’s good. Henderson gets pancaked and in the way of a second blocker, so in essence takes out two blockers in the last set, so that’s ok. I guess I have too many fond memories of Antoine splitting the blockers and making the tackle. We sure could use a young 26 back there. Skol!

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    • Tom,
      In the first photo Henderson took himself out of the play my moving down hill instead of laterally.
      Great quickness off the snap is not alway a good thing if your movement is wrong!

      At least one of our safeties from last year will get cut this season.
      Could be Raymond, Blanton, Sandejo or even Sanford… No one is safe with a new coaching staff.
      The completion at safety will be fun to watch.

      I think Blanton makes the team because he is good as an in the box run defender. Zimmer wanted Brinkley because of his run support… So the same may be true for DBs who are good against the run.

      What will Zimmer’s run defensive package personnel look like? Is Blanton a fit?

      I’m hot and cold for Blanton. One minute I agree with Adam that Blanton is on the cut bubble and the next minute I see him as an important contributor on certain package and special teams.

      I would cut Raymond before Blanton.

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  3. Adam here. I’ll go on record in this comments section: I think Blanton isn’t an NFL talent at either CB or safety and will be cut before we get down to 53.

    Hate to be so negative, but I thought that when he was a prospect and I still think that.

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    • If you said Mistral Raymond I’d agree with you. I think Blanton makes it, because he’s younger and has more room for growth than Sanford. I know Sanford reworked his contract, but I think he may be the bubble guy. Sendejo could be the starter and Sanford, Blanton and Coleman fight for two spots. Exum could also be in the mix, but could be practice squad until learns the safety position. The Vikings will probably carry 10 DBs, (that’s how many Cincy had last year) so if you think 6 CBs (based on poll last week, and poor Kip Edwards has already been eliminated)) than that leaves 4 Ss. I think Smith, and Sendejo make it for sure and the other 3 play for the final 2 spots . I haven’t seen Coleman, so I don’t know about him, but I think Blanton would get the nod over Sanford based on potential.

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