Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 44: TCU DL Ross Blacklock

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

44. TCU DT Ross Blacklock

6-foot-3, 290 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.94 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Scheme-diverse lineman with pass-rush ability to develop once he refines his handwork.

The skinny: The 3-star Rivals recruit had more than a dozen offers and spurned schools such as Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M to sign with the Horned Frogs in 2016. Blacklock took a redshirt season his first year on campus but made a big impact in 2017, being named Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and to the Freshman All-American team.

Expected to be one of the best interior linemen in the country in 2018, Blacklock’s redshirt sophomore season ended before it began when he suffered a (non-contact) Achilles injury in August practice. Blacklock slimmed down — losing more than 25 pounds — during that lost season and reported to spring practice in 2019 a different player. He was named first-team all-Big 12 last season, making 40 tackles (nine for losses) and 3.5 sacks in 12 starts.

Blacklock, who turns 22 years old in July, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He skipped the bench press (but reportedly can do 500-pound reps) at the NFL scouting combine but otherwise competed in every other drill, including a 4.90-second 40-yard dash.

TCU DL Ross Blacklock ran a great 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
TCU's Ross Blacklock ran a great 40-yard dash during the NFL scouting combine. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Upside: Disruptive flashes can be found nearly every game. Displays a relentlessness that only a few DL in this class possess. Gets off the snap and is the aggressor more often than not. Can win with quickness and power. Burrows his way through blocks and makes impact felt without stats to back it up.

Athleticism is fascinating. Showed great burst with 1.70-second 10-yard split on second 40-yard dash attempt at combine (1.73 on first attempt). Terrific bend and flexibility — has some dip and wiggle you don’t often see from big men. Can stunt and twist and finish in a hurry.

Worked in 3-3-5 two-gap scheme that limited playmaking opportunities. Faced constant double teams and had success defeating — gets skinny, turns hips and drops shoulder. Maintains gap integrity. Gets low, attacks blockers’ hips and fires off the ball to split doubles.

Watch this beauty of a TFL vs. Baylor:

Watch Blacklock get low, split the double team and make the tackle for loss against Baylor.
Watch Blacklock get low, split the double team and make the tackle for loss against Baylor.

And here’s a play against Purdue that shows he can pressure with interior pass-rush prowess when needed:

Nice little dip-and-rip move from Blacklock on the sack.
Nice little dip-and-rip move from Blacklock on the sack.

TCU’s system didn’t ask Blacklock to attack and win single blocks — more of a gap-control defense not conducive to box-score stuffing for DLs. System meant to stop run first, then pick spots to rush the passer. Flashes some quick-strike pass-rush moves — especially club-rip and chop-rip. Has potential to expand his repertoire as an interior rusher.

Blacklock was asked to line up everywhere from a base end to over the nose. Scheme-versatile and technique-diverse player who can upgrade a front at multiple spots. Should win single-blocking matchups at the next level. Hustled to make backside plays and track down screens 10 yards downfield. Regarded as fiery leader and strong competitor.

Downside: Injury history must be carefully considered. He rebounded from 2018 Achilles injury but recurrence is more common with that injury than others, especially in larger players. Weight and conditioning were issues in the past. Even at 2019 weight, effectiveness tended to wane later in games with higher snap counts. Can be run at and worn down (see Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma games).

Somewhat stumpy frame — shorter arms and smallish hands. Run-stopping ability waxes and wanes — excellent some games, far less impressive others. Needs to better find the ball and recognize blocking schemes before they develop. Can be washed out of plays when he’s unable to disengage quickly or establish leverage.

Might not be asked to do in the NFL what he was in college — could be a technical learning curve and might require some early hand-holding while he develops. Hand work needs improvement — doesn’t shed as well as you’d like to see. Feet get tangled and turned inside. Not a two-gapping block absorber, like he was asked to be at times at TCU.

Needs to learn how to finish more consistently. Countermoves can be slow and predetermined. Stays glued on blocks. Physical upside is there but refinement still lacking. Workout numbers show potential, but hasn’t always played to that level — a little more flash than flavor at this point.

In 26 career games, logged 15.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks but zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries and zero batted passes. Also tended to play a little wildly at times — flagged 12 times in two seasons for mostly preventable penalties (including three personal fouls, three offsides, plus unsportsmanlike conduct, facemask and roughing-the-passer calls). Has shown some immaturity at times, such as the 37 parking tickets he accrued in college.

Best-suited destination: We’d love to see Blacklock land in a stunting/slanting system in the NFL, perhaps as a 3-technique tackle and preferably in a one-gap system that frees him up to showcase his athleticism.

Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.

Did you know: His father, Jimmy Blacklock, is quite the Renaissance man. Following a brilliant college basketball career at the University of Texas (the first African-American player in school history, eventually named to the school’s athletic Hall of Fame), the elder Blacklock also played and coached with the Harlem Globetrotters for more than 20 years — including during the team’s heyday from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

Jimmy Blacklock also had a brief but fascinating career as an actor, appearing on TV shows such as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” “The Tonight Show,” “The White Shadow,” “The Love Boat,” and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island” in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

They said it: “I just try to fill those shoes for him, from our family. I’m super proud of him. … He’s my pops, so I love him to death.”

— Ross Blacklock about his father, at the combine

Player comp: Blacklock enters the league as a similar prospect to what new Raiders DT Maliek Collins has developed into. His peak might be similar to the Packers’ Kenny Clark.

Expected draft range: Late Round 1 to late Round 2

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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