Ross Blacklock brings power, tenacity, athleticism and an extremely bright future to the Texans Defensive Line. He can fill DJ Reader's role and be even better, very soon.
Ross Blacklock's Perfect Fit with the Texans
The Houston Texans selected Ross Blacklock with the 40th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and I'll be the first person to tell you that I wasn't a fan of the pick, at the time. I was so excited for this high draft pick that I strayed away from one of the main principles of scouting; focus on what a player CAN do, not what a player CAN'T do. I so badly wanted a Defensive Tackle who could rush the QB from Day 1 and apply pressure. The reality is there really aren't many DTs who can do that early on in their career. Blacklock showed flashes of it at TCU but while I grew frustrated that those flashes were inconsistent, I unconsciously ignored his elite ability to stop the run.
The first five games of Blacklock I watched before the draft, looked like a completely different player, from the next five games I watched after the draft. He was more consistent using his hands to defeat blocks, and most importantly, I saw exactly how he fits into the Texans defense. Letting DJ Reader walk in Free Agency opened up a massive hole on the interior of the DL, and Blacklock can step in and fill that run stuffing role Day 1.
He has mastered the fundamentals of run stuffing and holding double teams. His low pad level leads to powerful leverage. Combining that with his consistently well timed and aimed punch into the chest of OL, leads to him not giving up any ground. He fires into the middle of double teams and is strong enough to hold both blocks, allowing his LBs to run free and make tackles. While he may not make a ton of tackles himself, he still impacts the defense greatly, and is a perfect example of why box score stats don't tell the whole story. His elite run stuffing ability is especially important in the AFC South when the Texans have to stop Derrick Henry and now Jonathan Taylor/Marlon Mack 4 times a year.
With that said, let's dive into the film and breakdown why Ross Blacklock is such an elite run defender.
Run Defense: 1-on-1 Blocks
The first play I'll show encapsulates why he forces you to double team him in the run game. He's (#90) lined up over the Center, Creed Humphrey, who would've been the top IOL in the 2020 Draft Class if he declared. Blacklock is going up against top talent and he rises to the occasion. Blacklock will almost always punch his hands into the OL's chest and this is the first step of being a successful DL. With your hands inside you are more powerful and can control the opposing OL. He does this here and mirrors Creed's movement to the outside. Next, look how low Blacklock gets, to the point where his knee is even touching the ground. You can't get much lower than that and this wins Blacklock the leverage battle, making him more powerful than Creed, even if he may not be able to bench press as many reps. This natural leverage stops Creed from pushing Blacklock backwards at all, which results in Blacklock stopping the RB, and clogging the lane for QB Jalen Hurts' run. Blacklock doesn't get anything in the box score here, but it's obvious he made this play happen.
On this next play Blacklock is lined up between the RG and the Center, since the offense is running power to the left, Blacklock moves over a gap and he finds himself against Creed yet again. You get a great view of the importance of hand placement here. Creed has his hands around Blacklock's shoulder's and thus isn't able to push him back much at all. Whereas Blacklock punches his hands into Creed's chest and is more powerful, pushing him backwards and clogging the lane for the RB. Yet again, Blacklock isn't rewarded with anything in the box score, but he makes this play happen.
This is the next step for Blacklock, it's great to punch OL and stack the block, but making the tackle is what will get more people excited about him, because, you know, STATS! Lined up between the LG and the C, Blacklock runs horizontally to get outside leverage on the LG. He gets his head over the LG and punches him so violently in the chest that it stuns the LG and he stops moving. Blacklock extends his arms, using his length and then disengages from the block to make the tackle, holding the run to just 1 yard.
This next play is just pure domination from Blacklock. If he can consistently do this in the NFL, watch out. Blacklock is between the LG and Center and he punches the LG so violently that it pushes him 2 yards into the backfield. He keeps pushing the LG backwards and reads where the RB is going. He disengages from the block and helps out on the tackle.
I'm showing this last play so you don't think I'm only trying to show the good in Blacklock. While he is a great run stuffer, no player is perfect, and the one thing he can work on doing more consistently is getting off blocks to find the ball and make a tackle. You saw above that he definitely has the ability to do it, it's just a matter of consistency. On this play he faces the LG. He does his usual great job of punching in the chest and driving the LG into the backfield a bit. But on this play, and on other occasions, he doesn't find the ball or get off the block to really make an impact. If he has these 1-on-1 blocks he needs to get off the ball to make a tackle.
Run Defense: Double Teams
Blacklock does well versus 1-on-1 blocks, but where his true value and fit in the Texans defense will come, is with handing double teams like DJ Reader used to. In our base 3-4 defense, John McClain reported that Blacklock will be playing 3-4 DE, and will kick inside on passing downs. This is exactly what Reader did, with Brandon Dunn acting as the true Nose Tackle. Even as a 3-4 DE he will have to hold down double teams and his biggest job here is to make sure offensive linemen can't make it to the 2nd level to block LBs. Reader was elite at this and it contributed greatly to Zach Cunningham playing free, and racking up 142 tackles plus his first Pro Bowl honor.
Blacklock can play this same role and he has the fundamentals down so that he can have just as good of an impact as Reader did. Watch Blacklock go to work here. He's lined up between the LG and Center, who look to double team him. Blacklock uses his low pad level to win the leverage battle, and thus doesn't get pushed back at all. He holds onto both offensive linemen so that they can't get to the 2nd level. This gives the EDGE and the Safety a wide open lane to tackle the RB. There's no box score stat for holding a double team, but it's so important for a strong run defense.
Here's another example of the impact holding a double team can have. Blacklock is between the LG and Center and he fires into the double team. Look how low he gets, to the point where his back is basically horizontal instead of vertical. He forces both the LG and C to stay on the double team and you can clearly see how this leaves the nickel CB unblocked. He gets an open tackle on the RB but just can't bring him down. Blacklock gives him the opportunity though, and that's all you can really ask of him here.
More great work against a double team here as Blacklock is lined up between the C and LG. He fires into the double team and stands up both offensive linemen. He fights to penetrate into the backfield and you can see how it forces the RB to take a different lane than he wanted. The RB takes too long hopping around in the backfield and gets tackled for no gain. Anyone who is just box score watching and couldn't watch the game won't see that Blacklock made this play happen. It's just important to know that stats don't tell the full story.
Holding double teams and making plays for others is one thing, but if Blacklock can shed these double teams and make the tackle himself, that would be insane. He's showed the ability to do so, using his powerful violent hands to defeat blocks. Lined up between the LG and Center here, Blacklock deals with multiple blocks. He deals with the LG by swiping away at his hands. Then the Center tries to push him but he gives up minimal ground. Finally, the RG tries to block Blacklock too, but to no avail. Blacklock simply swims over the RG to get off the block. He occupies 3 OL here and lets his teammates make the play, but if they missed the tackle, he still got off all those blocks and could've helped. Ridiculous play here.
More Blacklock greatness as he is lined up between the RG and Center. He fires into the double team and this time the Center makes it to the 2nd level. A rare occasion, but it's bound to happen eventually. The problem with this is it leaves Blacklock with a 1-on-1 block which he defeats easily and makes the tackle on the RB himself.
I've showed 10 plays so far, and Blacklock has only made 3 tackles, but I think at this point, everyone can see how a player can make a drastic impact on the game, without being rewarded in the box score. Blacklock will be asked to play this role early in his career, being the guy who makes everyone else's job easier. So while the media will likely bash Blacklock for not getting sacks, TFLs or large tackle numbers, just know that he's the one doing the dirty work, letting Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney make the tackles, but while still making a massive impact.
Pass Rush: Sky High Potential
Ross Blacklock only had 3.5 sacks in his final season at TCU, and while he could use more polish with his hands, he showed tons of potential and racked up the pressures, which are a better indication of pass rush talent.
The basis of Blacklock's pass rush potential stems from his crazy athleticism. He often shows elite burst off the snap which forces the OL to panic. Look at this play, Blacklock is lined up between the LG and Center and once the ball is snapped, he's flying. The LG isn't ready for Blacklock, who simply punches him with one hand and just runs right by. The LG is left lunging and on the ground while Blacklock gets a kill shot on the QB. This is targeting and damn, that's gotta hurt.
Blacklock's go-to pass rush move is a swipe and swim, as seen here. He's heads up over the Center and swipes away his hands to the right and swims over using his right arm. The Center holds Blacklock, preventing the sack, but he gets close enough to the QB to pressure him and cause the errant throw. No sack here, but it's an incompletion nonetheless.
Here's more of that beautiful swipe and swim move. Blacklock is over the Center again and he makes quick work of him. He uses his right hand to swipe away the Center's hands, and then swims under with his left arm. This move is so smooth and fluid, it looks so easy for Blacklock, but trust me, it's not. He finishes the play by bending to the QB and bringing him down. I'm so excited to see Blacklock's sack dance.
As a 3-4 DE, Blacklock will sometimes be out wider like here in this 3 man front. He shows good ability to rush from the edge, although it's not where he's at his best. But if Anthony Weaver wants to get creative, Blacklock can do it. Against the RT, Blacklock does great to attack the outside shoulder. He punches the RT and tries to dip under his right shoulder, but to no avail. He could have better bend here, but for a DT it's pretty good. He creates pressure and forces the QB to step up into the pocket. Make no mistake, Blacklock's versatility will be key for a team that likes to line up our DL all over the place.
The last play I'll breakdown is one that is extremely important for his future. The clips you've seen have shown Blacklock's ability to use his hands well, particularly going to his patented swipe and swim move. But what we saw last year from DJ Reader was the value of the bull rush. Time and time again he would bull rush an interior offensive lineman, collapsing the pocket and leaving the QB nowhere to step up. This helped create numerous sacks for Whitney Mercilus, which is why once Reader's pass rushing fell off, so did Mercilus'.
This is why Blacklock developing a better bull rush will be so pivotal for the team. He showed flashes of it in college, but it was a very rare occurrence. This play is beautiful though, and it shows he's capable of doing it. Lined up over the RG, he punches the chest, stacks the block and reads the play action fake. Once he deciphers it's a pass, he transitions into his bull rush. He already has great hand placement inside, so he puts his head down and runs his feet, pushing forward and collapsing the pocket. The ball is out before he can disengage and sack the QB, but this is extremely promising. Mastering this bull rush consistently will help him, our edge rushers and the defense as a whole immensely.
I hope if you weren't already a fan of Blacklock, you are now. The biggest thing for me is owning up to when you are wrong about a prospect. It happens all the time with scouting, if it wasn't hard, every team would hit on every single draft pick, but that's just not the case. I wasn't in love with the pick, I'm still not going to give it an A+++ but I get why we took him and I can easily see how he impacts the defense. Every defensive line needs a Ross Blacklock or a DJ Reader. Someone who can do the dirty work, take on blocks, and let the rest of your defense make plays. He has that part of his game down, and it should translate to the NFL early on.
The other big impact he will have is pass rushing, and if he can continue to build on the flashes he's shown in college, he's going to be dangerous, and better than DJ Reader. Refining his hand technique, adding a couple more pass rush moves and just bull rushing more often will go a long way. Blacklock's athleticism gives him the potential to be a great pass rushing DT. He's just got to put everything together, and with Anthony Weaver, I strongly believe he will.
What do you think of Ross Blacklock? Did you like the pick? Do you like it even more now? Let me know in the comments below!