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”?
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’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.