Taken in the second round by then General Manager Rich McKay and Coach Bobby Prictrino, Justin Blalock seemed to be a steal out of Texas in the second round. He was well known for being a bulldozing tackle who earned All-American honors as a freshman in Austin and could project extremely well inside to guard, where his strength and run blocking ability could shine while he honed his pass blocking skills. Blalock came in as a rookie in 2007 and has started 46 out of 48 games since becoming a Falcon. #63 had major flashes as a rookie when he was plugged in at left guard, but also had some struggles adjusting to the pro game. Even though his individual stats may not have looked fantastic in 2008, he should get a large amount of credit for contributing to the second leading rushing team in the NFL, pushing Michael Turner to the second leading rusher in the NFL and into the Pro Bowl. Statistics aside, its hard to argue that Blalock, and the entire OL, didn’t play a part in that effort.
Unfortunately, Blalock has ranked near the very bottom in terms of guard rankings and ratings the last two years. When the entire OL is successful, such as 2008, many issues from individual players can easily be overlooked or covered up. That was certainly not true last year when the Birds offensive line seriously underachieved. Many believe that Blalock is in fact the weak link on the Line and has never adjusted appropriately to the left guard position after playing his entire college career as a right tackle. #63 hasn’t had much help in terms of his tackle mate Sam Baker either. Baker has often been hurt and underperformed often as well. Is Blalock’s struggles a direct result of the left tackle’s weakness? Or is he the main person to blame? One thing is for certain: the Falcons drafted guard Mike Johnson out of Alabama who holds the records for most starts by an Alabama player….EVER! Most expect that Johnson will be eased in gradually and groomed to take over either for right guard Dahl or Blalock. But is it out of the question that Johnson could replace Blalock this year? Let the debate run…………..
Overall Comprehensive Ranking – 70th (out of 74; -23.0 Rating)
Pass Block – 55th (-5.0 Rating)
Run Block – 71st (-11.5 Rating)
Overall Comprehensive Ranking – 73rd (out of 84; -13.0 Rating)
Pass Block – 44th (+1.4 Rating)
Run Block – 74th (-9.3 Rating)
Penalties – 70th (-5.0 Rating)
Sacks – Tied 37th (2)
QB Hits – 84th (Dead Last; 13)
QB Pressures – Tied 50th (12)
Good Games – New England, New Orleans (1st)
Awful Games – Miami, Washington, NY Giants, Tampa Bay (2nd)
Justin Blalock may have been hurt initially by having to play out of position when he was drafted by Coach Prictrino in 2007, but he has had plenty of time to correct his mistakes of the past and do a better individual job. He not only has not progressed since he was a rookie, but he actually has digressed. He has ranked near the very bottom the last two years in terms of all guards. He was ranked 71st out of 74 guards this year by ProFootballFocus.com. Granted, these statistics are subjective for sure, but when Blalock consistently ranks at or the near the bottom in all three of his years as a Falcon, its hard to believe it’s a conspiracy. He did only give up 2 sacks from his area in 2009, but remember that Matt Ryan has far and away the most throwaways of any player in the NFL (30, compared to next closest Jason Campbell’s 22). Most of these throwaways were do to Ryan getting pressure from his back side where Blalock and Baker manned the blind side. He ranked absolutely dead last in QB Hits in the entire NFL with 13. Blalock was known for his road-grading blocking and that would be the easy part of his game, but that is a myth that somehow perpetuates due to his size perhaps. He ranked 71st in run blocking in 2008 and 74th in 2009.
Along with Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, and Quinn Ojinnaka, Justin Blalock is due to become a free agent if a new deal is not reached. Thomas Dimitroff has drafted three offensive lineman (Mike Johnson, Joe Hawley, and Garrett Reynolds) that very well look to get into the starting rotation sooner rather than later. One of the biggest and his highest picks was Mike Johnson out of Alabama. Johnson is a proven starter in college and was ranked as one of the best guards in the draft. He has played both positions and even some left tackle, but his natural position is left guard, so obviously Dimitroff has hand-picked Blalock’s successor. Blalock may benefit from moving back to his natural position at right guard, but the guess is that Blalock will be the easiest decision when he becomes a free agent and some have suggested the he may even be traded. If nothing else, #63 is probably playing to get a good contract when he finishes as a Falcon.
Blalock is criticized as the weakest link on the offensive line, but this is unfair because he has been one of the most consistent offensive lineman over the past three years, starting 46 out of 48 games. First of all, Blalock was drafted by a Coach who didn’t know what the hell he was doing in the NFL and promptly moved Blalock out of position to left guard, where rarely or even never played in college at Texas. He played right tackle and was moved to left guard. He has had little help on the left side with Sam Baker often being hurt and seeing player after player having to step in. For instance, he has never had the consistency in having a partner the way Harvey Dahl has had Tyson Clabo in rarely missing games. Baker missed 8 games in 2008 and missed two games this year.
Blalock does need to show progress this year, but the talent is there. He has prototypical size for a guard (6’4, 329) and obviously has talent (1st Team All-American as a freshman at Texas). Some of his best games came against the toughest opponents in New England and New Orleans this past season. Possibly some of Blalock’s poor performance, the same with all the Falcons OL, came due to Mike Mularkey’s easily predictable play-calling. When the defense can simply guess what’s coming next, even the best offensive linemen don’t stand a chance. Blalock may benefit from a move back to right guard, where Harvey Dahl currently sits. Hard to argue not re-signing Dahl due to his numbers, but Blalock is 3 years younger, is bigger, and it would be laughable to suggest that Blalock wouldn’t flourish next to big Tyson Clabo and his amazing consistency. This may be Blalock’s last year as a Falcon, but the coaching staff need to look deeply in seeing if his struggles were all his fault or bad luck. They also need to truly see if which has more long-term upside: Dahl or Blalock?
-What’s your overall thoughts on Justin Blalock as a Falcon?
-Blalock’s poor performance his own fault or bad circumstances?
-Simply put, is Justin Blalock the weakest link of the OL?
-Could anyone do any better next to Sam Baker and/or Will Svitek?
-Does Johnson legitimately have a chance to replace Blalock this year?
-Any chance Blalock is a Falcon in 2011?
-Could #63 be traded before the season?
-Should Falcons front office consider a position switch for Blalock?