As Oklahoma State lined up spread out in a four-wide set, quarterback Brandon Weeden stepped up to the line and glanced out to his right, noticing the nation's best wide receiver sitting in one-on-one coverage.
The ball was snapped quickly and Justin Blackmon bolted inside on a quick slant, getting position on fifth-year Stanford cornerback Corey Gatewood and snagging Weeden's dart out of mid air for a 21-yard gain to extend the game and the Pokes hopes of taking their first ever BCS bowl win.
While the Cowboys continued their drive for the win and even amidst the game's wild finish, including some freshman jitters and a couple missed field goals, I couldn't take my eyes off Blackmon.
The back-to-back Biletnikoff award winner (nation's best wide receiver) had been hampered for weeks by an inner thigh infection, leaving Blackmon bed-ridden and limited in practices for much of the Fiesta preparations. Blackmon's injury was so limiting that he barely showed up on the field for pre-game warmups on Monday night and even looked unusually ordinary for much of the first quarter against a mediocre Cardinal defense.
After Oklahoma State's third-consecutive fruitless drive to open the game, cameras caught Blackmon bouncing around and screaming at teammates on the sidelines as if to try and incite a rally. The leader's words were apparently plenty motivation for the Boys' offense as the previously stagnant attack suddenly re-discovered their rhythm. But, for Blackmon, words weren't enough.
On their ensuing drive, the speedy Blackmon bolted past a set of defenders across the field, grabbing a Weeden strike and taking it to the house for a 67-yard touchdown -- just his first of three scores on the night.
Monday's performance, 8 catches for 186 yards and 3 TDs, yielded the game's Offensive MVP honors and goes on to further prove that Blackmon doesn't just talk about success, he is about it. He showed great poise, leadership and perseverance throughout State's 41-38 win, focusing his attention on the victory over all else -- a trait with which New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belicheck can certainly empathize.
As the Cowboys stood on stage and Blackmon hoisted the Fiesta Bowl trophy, the thought of him donning a Patriots' uniform seemed like a perfect fit. During the game, my college buddy, Mike, even tweeted "would love to see Tom Brady throwing to Justin Blackmon", to whom I responded the thought was but a pipe dream.
While I couldn't quite see Belichick trading his draft away to pick up the talented wideout, the thought couldn't help but stick and I began to wonder how Blackmon would fit in New England.
A Fit in Foxboro
The 6'1" 215-pound athletic freak, Blackmon is a beast on the field with the size to go up and get most balls thrown his way. He has been compared, physically at least, with former Oklahoma State teammate and current Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant, but Blackmon's abilities seem to far exceed that of Bryant's.
Blackmon's focus and passion for the game are already miles ahead of Bryant, who already has two years of NFL service, and his work ethic is off the charts in terms of preparation - another Belichick favorite.
Given his body of work in college - better than 250 receptions, 3500 yards and 40 TDs in just 3 seasons -- Blackmon ranks right up at the top of draft boards and has lined himself up with the likes of other former "can't miss" receivers - Michael Crabtree, AJ Green and Bryant to name a few. But, even with the high ceilings that each of those players boasted and the quality resumes they have already put together since joining the NFL, in my opinion Blackmon is still the best of the bunch.
He's tall, long and athletic with the deep threat potential of Randy Moss, the hands of Cris Carter and the work ethic of Jerry Rice. Sure, these assertions may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the fact remains that Blackmon's attitude and statistics are at the very least a claim to his belonging on a list with these fellow superstars.
If Blackmon even proves close to the lower level of those three players by the end of his career, he will be a viable Hall of Famer sporting a few Super Bowl rings on his fingers.
Belichick and Brady's time in New England looks to be coming to a close, at least as a package deal, and Brady may have but a few years left in his prime before the wear and tear of over a dozen NFL seasons start to show. So, why not give him the toy he's always wanted, flanking out to his wing.
Since 2009 - the last time Randy Moss was a viable deep threat, Tom Brady has had to make due with a rag tag group of wide receivers on the outside. No one is taking anything away from Wes Welker's impressive ability or the gaudy numbers he has put up, but the ‘blow the top off the defense' threat Moss presented on every snap has since been all but disregarded.
Blackmon's sub-4.5 second 40-speed is certainly an attractive asset and given Brady's even greater accuracy levels - averaging better than 65% completions - matching that speed with Welker's work inside the numbers and the bruise and cruise combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be near unstoppable.
Sure, the 21-year-old Blackmon would be a bit raw at times and there could be a learning curve in terms of learning the Belichick offensive scheme, but Cowboys coach Mike Gundy's offense is no simple attack and Blackmon clearly excelled there.
His humble attitude and behavior off the field paired with the beastly build and speed he possesses, any franchise would be lucky to have Blackmon. Belichick and Patriots may just be the perfect fit in terms all-around skills and commitment.
The interest from the Patriots would certainly be there but the question remains: would Belichick and his draft day war room be willing to - for once - part with their stock pile of picks and move up on draft day?
Let's Make a Deal!
Blackmon will surely be a top-10 and possibly even top-5 selection -- 6th overall in SB Nation's first 2012 NFL mock draft -- come the last weekend in April and plenty of teams will be salivating at the idea of him catching balls from their signal-caller.
For a playoff bound team like the Patriots, getting into a spot to take the talented wideout would cost a whole lot of picks or players -- something the hoodie hasn't been very fond of in year's past.
While Blackmon would cost any team outside the top-8 picks a haul to reel in - not quite the expected three 1st Rounders of a trade for Luck -- it seems that his skill set, personality and love of the game would be a perfect fit for Brady and company in Foxborough.
The Patriots certainly have the trade assets to acquire the freak wide receiver, but as Belichick has shown time and time again he's not quite willing to waste valuable assets for a top-flight player.
If there were ever going to be a player for Belichick to make that exception, Blackmon would appear to be that fit.
The ultimate haul - expecting it would take a top-8 pick to get Blackmon -- could end up being two early picks and a quality player, similar to what the Atlanta Falcons gave up for Julio Jones (6th overall) in 2011.
Given the desperate need for quarterbacks throughout the league, especially with teams like Cleveland (4th overall), Washington (6th) and Miami (8th) the Pats could be in a strong position. Boasting the likes of highly touted backups Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, and given the success of former Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Cassell, teams may be looking for less in terms of picks as long as either Hoyer or Mallett is included.
Another strength for the Pats could be utilizing their two first-round picks (New Orleans is the other) in 2012 as bargaining chips.
Offering Hoyer along with a late first rounder and a mid-round pick could just entice the likes of Brown's President Mike Holmgren or Redskin's head coach Mike Shannahan to make a deal.
As I told my buddy Mike, the thought of a Brady-to-Blackmon combo is still more a pipe dream than anything. But, looking through the possibilities, the prospect isn't as far fetched as I once thought.
In the end, it all comes down Belichick -- as it always does -- and like a good magician you can never truly know what the hoodie's got up his sleeve.
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