Draft in-depth: CB Robert Blanton

Robert Blanton (Douglas Jones/USP)

Find out about the Vikings' fifth-round draft pick, CB Robert Blanton.

ROBERT "R.J." BLANTON, Jr.
Cornerback/Free Safety
University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
#12
6:00.6-208
Matthews, North Carolina
Butler High School

OVERVIEW

When Blanton hits a receiver, he does so with one thing in mind – "search and destroy." Cornerbacks are not known for their "blow-up" type of tackles that leave opponents with rubbery legs and a few "marbles" rattling around inside their heads, but those defenders are not Robert "R.J." Blanton Jr. Professional scouts compare his style of play to present NFL standouts like Denver's Champ Bailey, Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, for his savvy, yet aggressive demeanor on the football field.

"Old timers" also see a lot of Mel Blount (Pittsburgh) and Herb Adderly (Green Bay) in his style of play, especially with the way he hurls himself at ball carriers and uses his speed and power to play off the slower offensive tackles to wreak havoc in the backfield on stunts and blitzes. Ever since his arrival on campus as a freshman, Blanton has provided the Irish with stellar play, no matter where he lines up and whether as a starter or key reserve.

Blanton's performance during his first year at Notre Dame forced the coaching staff to eventually place him in the starting lineup at "boundary" cornerback, replacing senior Terrail Lambert for the final four games. He began his sophomore campaign as the starter at the boundary position, shifting over to "field" cornerback for three more contests. Even though he started just one game, vs. Army in 2010, he still finished sixth on the team with 53 tackles, making a total of ten stops (assists/solos) behind the line of scrimmage.

Now, in his final season, the versatile tackler was finally able to settle in and hone his skills at one position. With his draft stock rapidly rising, the media was quick to notice that Notre Dame might have their first blue chip cornerback since the early 1990s, the last time an Irish corner was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (Todd Lyght was chosen in the first round of the then-Los Angeles Rams in 1991 and Tom Carter was selected by the Washington Redskins in the 1993 draft).

The senior also placed himself in serious contention for Jim Thorpe Award honors, which is given to college football's premier defensive back. His impressive numbers throughout his final campaign saw opponents target 110 passes into his area, completing just 30 of those tosses (27.27%) for 198 yards and no touchdowns, an average of 6.6 yards per pass completion and 1.8 yards per attempt. In addition to rerouting/jamming receivers on 59 pass attempts, he produced 36 third-down stops and two more on fourth-down plays vs. the aerial game.

The rest of the Irish defense did not fare as well, allowing 79.85% of the other passes attempted by the opposition to be completed (214-of-268) for an average of 10.41 yards per pass completion and 8.31 yards per attempt in 2011. Those same opponents have scored 21 times through the air vs. Notre Dame, but none of those touchdowns were allowed by Blanton. The boundary cornerback also had two of the team's eight interceptions, including a sensational 82-yard return. Of the 127 first downs generated by the opposition through the air, just fourteen have come in Blanton's area.




Blanton recorded three turnovers (one fumble recovery and two interceptions) while the rest of his teammates have combined ten (six pass thefts and four fumble recoveries) in 2011. He also demonstrated that he was a great "hired gun" when it comes to killing scoring drives, as he produced a total of 40 third-down stops (six more vs. the ground) and four more on fourth-down snaps.

Showing little fear for taking on offensive linemen, Blanton recorded nine total tackles behind the line of scrimmage (assists and solos), stopping four ball carriers and one tight end for no gain, to go along with registering fifteen of his hits inside the red zone, including five on goal-line plays. In addition, he posted thirteen touchdown-saving tackles (six vs. the run, seven vs. the pass) after opposing players managed to break free for long plays vs. the rest of the Irish defenders.

Blanton's senior campaign performance came as no surprise to the Notre Dame coaching staff. "We felt very strongly about Robert Blanton coming into the season, that he would give us great play. I think he's exceeded everybody's expectations at this point," head coach Brian Kelly said. "He can do a lot of things for you: he can play safety, he can play corner, he can play nickel. As you know, last year he was a great special teams player."

"Blanton has speed and good timing and when the ball is in the air, and he's aggressive going after it," the coach noted. "On a high throw, he seems to be able to find the football at the same time or even earlier than the receiver and then can battle him for it - often winning. He's just got a swagger and a confidence about him that he carries with him, not only on the field but off the field as well. I think that's very important when you play back there, that you have that kind of personality. He's a very confident young man in every-thing he does."

In 50 games at Notre Dame, Blanton had a total of 292 passes targeted into his area. The opposition managed to complete only 93 of those tosses (31.85%) for 799 yards, an average of 8.59 yards per completion and 2.74 yards per pass attempt. He recorded 106 third-down stops, including 90 vs. the aerial game, along with posting eight fourth-down plays. Thirty-three of his tackles came inside the red zone, with thirteen coming on goal-line plays. He rerouted/jammed his pass coverage assignments away from 154 throws (52.74%).

In twenty-six starting assignments, Blanton has had 194 passes targeted into his territory, seeing just 42 of those tosses caught (21.65%), good for 300 yards, an average of 7.14 yards per completion and 1.55 yards per pass attempt. He prevented those targets from getting to 105 of those passes (54.12%), delivering 66 third-down hits and six fourth-down plays while performing for the first unit. Twenty-one of those plays were inside the red zone, including eight on goal-line snaps, delivering sixteen touchdown-saving tackles vs. the aerial game.

Blanton has also shown off his power as a run stuffer. Despite playing in the secondary, he has recorded a total of 22 tackles (solos and assists) for losses, stopping ball carriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain nine times. On 84 running plays where he was the lead tackler, those ball carriers managed just 259 yards, an average of 3.08 yards per carry. He also was credited with sixteen more touchdown-saving tackles after the Notre Dame "front seven" had coverage breakdowns, resulting in those running backs breaking for daylight into the Irish secondary.

Prior to his arrival at Notre Dame, Blanton was a standout cornerback and safety at David W. Butler High School, playing for head coach Mike Newsome. He also competed as a receiver, in addition to earning letters in track and basketball. He began receiving national attention from recruiters during his sophomore gridiron season, earning All-State second-team honors after producing 126 tackles with ten pass deflections and six interceptions for a 10-3 Bulldogs squad that ranked eighth in the state of North Carolina in 2005. He also caused six fumbles and blocked six kicks.

As a junior, Blanton was named All-State first-team by the Associated Press, again helping his team to a ranking of eighth in the state and a berth in the state playoffs, as the All-Southwestern Class 4AA League choice delivered an area-best 147 tackles, breaking up twelve passes while picking off seven others during the 2006 schedule that saw Butler finish with a 12-3 record. He also saw brief action as a receiver, hauling in four passes for 86 yards (21.5 ypc).

By now, Blanton's name was on the top of almost every major college recruiters' "wish list." The national media also joined the "bandwagon," as the senior was one of eleven players from the state of North Carolina selected to the All-Southern team by the Orlando Sentinel in 2007. He was named to "Super Southern 100" by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated Press and first-team pick was chosen Defensive Player of the Year by Charlotte Observer.

Blanton received a four-star prospect rating from Rivals.com, as that recruiting service also regarded him as the nation's best "cover" safety and the seventh-best overall prospect in the state of North Carolina. Scout.com also awarded him four-star accolades and rated him the 15th-best cornerback in the prep ranks, along with calling him the state's third-best prospect.

Blanton signed his national letter-of-intent to attend Notre Dame on October 19th, 2007. He collected 128 tackles with seven interceptions, 25 pass deflections and six blocked kicks for a Bulldogs team that finished the season 10-3, earning a spot in the second round of the Class 4AA playoffs. He also contributed sixteen receptions for 252 yards (15.8 ypc).

At the conclusion of his senior campaign, Blanton played in North-South Carolina Shrine Bowl. He was also selected for the U.S. Army All- American Bowl in San Antonio, where he played both cornerback and safety. In basketball, he competed for Bulldogs' coach Kurt Wessler, but the Black & Platinum managed just an 11-12 record during his junior season.
In track, he competed in the hurdles, in addition to surpassing 21 feet in the long jump and clearing 6-7 in the high jump.

While his exploits in football, basketball and track garnered him national attention, Blanton was also highly respected within his community. He was recognized as the Carolina Panthers Community Captain for his outstanding performance in the classroom and in the community. The Butler High honor roll student served as a first lieutenant in the school's JROTC program and received the coveted JROTC Scholastic Award.

Blanton served as a coach for a youth football team at the Youth Football Club of Mint Hill and was a spokesperson for Butler High's D.R.E.A.M. Team (Daring to Role-model Excellence as Athletic Mentors). He was one of five finalists for Glenn Davis Award, a national award based on community service, academics and athletic accomplishment, and presented at U.S. Army All- American Bowl.

When Blanton arrived on the Notre Dame campus in 2008, the coaching staff instantly saw that he was mature beyond his years, both on and off the field. They recognized a tall, physical cornerback who knew how to utilize his speed, strength and size when defending wide receivers. They cautiously kept him on the sidelines for the 2008 season opener, but he went on to play in the nest twelve contests, starting the final four games at right corner-back. He recorded 33 tackles (26 solos) with three stops for loss and three pass break-ups, returning one of his two interceptions 47 yards for a touchdown, vs. Purdue.





Blanton began his sophomore campaign at right (boundary) cornerback, starting the first five games. He later shifted to the left side, earning three more starting assignments while appearing in all twelve contests. He ranked eighth on the team with 38 tackles (21 solos), including one behind the line of scrimmage. He again posted two interceptions and broke up two other pass attempts.

When a player starts just one of his team's thirteen games, much like Blanton did in 2010, you would think that that athlete had a bad season. That was not the case with this hard-hitting junior. He ranked sixth on the team with 53 tackles (29 solos), as he made 1.5 sacks, as his 8.5 tackles-for-loss ranked third in the nation among defensive backs. He broke up five passes, intercepted two others and also blocked a punt, returning that kick for a touchdown in the Utah clash.

Whether Blanton lined up at the field or boundary cornerback position, or shifted inside to nickel back, or even lined up with the "front seven" as a Cover-2 type linebacker (vs. Army), Blanton excelled in 2010. Sixteen of his hits came on third-down plays and three others on fourth-down snaps. He posted eleven tackles inside the red zone, with six on goal-line plays and made eight more stops with the kickoff coverage unit, in addition to three more with the punt coverage team.

He allowed only 21-of-62 passes in his area to be caught, (33.87%), good for 162 yards, an average of 7.71 yards per reception and 2.61 yards per pass attempt, despite never having played just one position. He also rerouted/jammed receivers on 30 incomplete passes thrown into his area (48.39%). The rest of the Irish were torched for 2,634 yards on 253-of-378 passes (66.93%), as their opponents averaged 10.41 yards per pass completion and 6.98 yards per pass attempt.

CAREER NOTES
Blanton started 26-of-50 games for the Fighting Irish – 21 at boundary cornerback, four at "field" cornerback and one (vs. Army in 2010) as an extra defensive back (lined up at weak-side outside linebacker slot)…Recorded 195 tackles (125 solos) with 2.5 sacks for minus 20 yards and 20.5 stops for losses of 66 yards…Added three quarterback pressures and advanced a fumble recovery four yards…Deflected sixteen passes and intercepted eight others for 128 yards in returns (16.0 avg) and a touchdown…Returned two blocked punts for 27 yards, including one for a score, vs. Utah in 2010…His 20.5 tackles-for-loss are the most for any active cornerback in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks… Blanton's 82-yard interception return vs. Michigan State in 2011 tied Art Parisien (vs. Minnesota, 1925) and Wally Fromhart (vs. Southern California, 1935) for the tenth-longest interception return in school history…His 82-yarder was the second-longest pass theft return by an Irish player this century, topped by Tom Zbikowski's 83-yard runback vs. Brigham Young in 2005…Blanton became just the fifth freshman in school history to return an interception for a touchdown, racing 47 yards for a score vs. Purdue in 2008, joining Brian Smith (25 yards vs. Boston College, 2007), Bobby Leopold (57 yards vs. Northwestern, 1976), Randy Harrison (44 yards vs. Miami, 1974) and Drew Mahalic (56 yards vs. Pittsburgh, 1972) as the only first year players to accomplish that feat…In the 2008 Southern California contest, Blanton became the first true freshman to lead the team in tackles (seven solos) in a game during the Charlie Weis era (2005-09)…In 50 games at Notre Dame, Blanton had a total of 292 passes targeted into his area, as the opposition managed to complete only 93 of those tosses (31.85%) for 799 yards, an average of 8.59 yards per completion and 2.74 yards per pass attempt…Recorded 106 third-down stops, including 90 vs. the aerial game, along with posting eight fourth-down plays, as he also rerouted/jammed his pass coverage assignments away from 154 throws (52.74%) vs. the passing game…In twenty-six starting assignments, Blanton had 194 passes targeted into his territory, seeing just 42 of those tosses caught (21.65%), good for 300 yards, an average of 7.14 yards per completion and 1.55 yards per pass attempt, preventing those targets from getting to 105 of those passes (54.12%), delivering 66 third-down hits and six fourth-down plays while performing for the first unit…Thirty-three of his tackles came inside the red zone, with thirteen coming on goal-line plays…Stopped ball carriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain nine times…On 84 running plays where he was the lead tackler, those running backs managed just 259 yards, an average of 3.08 yards per carry… Was credited with 32 touchdown-saving tackles (16 each vs. the run and pass) after the Notre Dame "front seven" had coverage breakdowns, resulting in those opponents breaking for daylight into the Irish secondary.

2011 SEASON
Blanton was named to The NFL Draft Report's All-American third-team and All-Major Independent first-team, as that scouting information service rates him as the hardest-hitting cornerback and most underrated defensive back eligible for the 2012 draft…Was considered a "dark horse candidate" for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the premier defensive back in the collegiate ranks…The senior game captain started all thirteen games, as he ranked third on the squad with a career-high 70 tackles (48 solos) that included an 11-yard sack and a pair of QB pressures…His eight tackles for losses totaling 24 yards rank second on the team and placed him second in the nation among defensive backs (Kentucky safety Winston Guy has 11.0 tfls)…Recovered a fumble that he advanced four yards vs. Air Force, deflected three passes and intercepted two others, including a career-long 82-yard return…The boundary cornerback was involved in 110 passes targeted into his area, as the opposition completed just 30 of those tosses (27.27%) for 198 yards and no touchdowns, an average of 6.6 yards per pass completion and 1.8 yards per attempt…n addition to rerouting/jamming receivers on 59 pass attempts, he produced 36 third-down stops and two more on fourth-down plays vs. the aerial game...The rest of the Irish defense did not fare as well, allowing 79.85% of the other passes attempted by the opposition to be completed (214-of-268) for an average of 10.41 yards per pass completion and 8.31 yards per attempt in 2011…Those same opponents have scored 21 times through the air vs. Notre Dame, but none of those touchdowns were allowed by Blanton, as the senior also had two of the team's eight interceptions…Of the 127 first downs generated by the opposition through the air, just fourteen have come in Blanton's area…Killed a total of 44 scoring drives with his 40 third-down stops (six more vs. the ground) and four more on fourth-down snaps vs. the opposition…Recorded nine total tackles behind the line of scrimmage (assists and solos), stopping four ball carriers and one tight end for no gain, in addition to registering fifteen of his hits inside the red zone, including five on goal-line plays…Posted thirteen touchdown-saving tackles (six vs. the run, seven vs. the pass) after opposing players managed to break free for long plays vs. the rest of the Irish defenders.

2011 SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
Blanton posted six tackles (4 solos) with a stop behind the line of scrimmage vs. South Florida…A heartbreaking 35-31 loss to Michigan was tempered a bit by Blanton's seventh career interception, as the cornerback also posted four tackles…Returned an interception 82 yards to set up a scoring drive, as he also deflected three other throws, recorded an 11-yard sack and had three stops behind the line of scrimmage while delivering four tackles vs. Michigan State…Registered six tackles (4 solos), including his fifth stop behind the line of scrimmage for the season vs. Purdue…Produced a season-best ten tackles (7 solos) with a stop for a loss vs. Air Force…While the Irish charged to a 56-14 victory vs. Navy, it was a long day for the Notre Dame defense, as the unit was on the field for 63 plays, with Blanton producing seven tackles (4 solos), including four vs. the running game…Blanton was all over the field, recording ten tackles (7 solos) with a pressure and a pair of stops for losses, along with making three touchdown-saving tackles when he was the "last man standing" on big plays generated by Wake Forest…Recorded six tackles (5 solos) and broke up two passes vs. Stanford.

2010 SEASON
Blanton played in every game, seeing action at boundary and field cornerback, free safety, strong safety, nickel back and earned his only start as an extra defensive back/weak-side outside linebacker hybrid vs. Army…Despite coming off the bench most of the season, he still finished sixth on the team with 54 tackles (30 solos) that included 1.5 sacks for minus 9 yards and a crucial third-down quarterback pressure that caused an interception…His 8.5 tackles-for loss, totaling 27 yards, ranked third on the team…That total also ranked second among NCAA FBS cornerbacks, topped by only David Garrett of Kansas State (15.0)…The Irish ranked 54th in the nation in pass defense (215.67 ypg), but Blanton was an intimidating presence, as his hard-hitting style of play saw him jam/reroute receivers away from 30-of-62 passes targeted into his area (48.39%)…Intercepted two passes and had five other pass deflections, as opposing quarterbacks completed just 21 of those 62 tosses (33.87%) for 162 yards, no touchdowns and just seven first downs, an average of 7.71 yards per pass completion and 2.61 yards per pass attempt…Against the rest of the Irish defense, opponents completed 66.93% of their pass attempts (253-of-378) for 2,634 yards, an average of 10.41 yards per reception…Registered 23 third-down stops and two more on fourth-down snaps vs. the aerial game, as he delivered eleven tackles inside the red zone, including six on goal-line plays…Produced four touchdown-saving tackles vs. the ground attack, as he made eight plays for losses (assists and solos) along with taking ball carriers down at the line of scrimmage for no gain three times, holding the rushing attack to a miniscule 73 yards on 23 plays vs. the cornerback (3.17 ypc)…44 of those yards came on his TD-saving tackles…Participated in a total of 483 defensive plays, as he also made eight tackles for the kickoff coverage unit and three more for the punt coverage squad…Added 27 yards on two punt returns, blocking one kick that he returned for a 6-yard touchdown vs. Utah…Opened the season with four consecutive four-tackle performances, vs. Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford…Picked off a pass and had two stops for loss, including a 6-yard sack vs. Boston College…Added an assisted sack and four hits with a pass break-up vs. Pittsburgh…Followed with six tackles (3 solos) with two stops behind the line of scrimmage vs. Western Michigan…Delivered five stops, with 1.5 tackles for loss vs. Tulsa…Registered nine tackles and an interception vs. Miami in the Sun Bowl.

2009 SEASON
Blanton appeared in all twelve games, starting the first five contests of his sophomore campaign at boundary cornerback…Also started at field cornerback vs. Boston College, Washington State and Navy…Ranked eighth on the team with 38 tackles (21 solos), including one stop behind the line of scrimmage, as the Irish ranked 76th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 227.5 yards per game…Deflected two passes and intercepted two others…Also made 35 appearances for the Notre Dame special team coverage units.

2008 SEASON
As a true freshman, Blanton was held out of the season opener vs. San Diego State, but appeared in the next twelve contests…Was originally listed second on the depth chart at left cornerback, but took over right cornerback starting duties for the final four games, going on to record 33 tackles (26 solos) with three stops for losses of 14 yards…Added three pass deflection with two interceptions for 47 yards in returns, as the Irish finished 43rd in the nation in pass defense, yielding 195.69 yards per game…In addition to playing with the defensive unit, Blanton participated in 63 plays for the special team coverage squads.

INJURY REPORT
2011 Season…Missed several days of practice prior to the Boston College game (11/19) due to flu-like symptoms.

AGILITY TESTS
4.63 in the 40-yard dash…1.58 10-yard dash…2.59 20-yard dash…3.97 20-yard shuttle…
11.28 60-yard shuttle…6.71 three-cone drill…34-inch vertical jump…9'8" broad jump… Bench pressed 225 pounds 17 times…31 ¼-inch arm length…9 1/8-inch hands…76 1/8-inch wingspan…17 Wonderlic test.

HIGH SCHOOL
Blanton attended David W. Butler (Matthews, N.C.) High School, playing football for head coach Mike Newsome…The standout cornerback and safety also competed as a receiver, in addition to earning letters in track and basketball…As a senior, Blanton was one of eleven players from the state of North Carolina selected to the All-Southern team by the Orlando Sentinel in 2007…Named to "Super Southern 100" by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Associated Press and first-team pick was chosen Defensive Player of the Year by Charlotte Observer…Received a four-star prospect rating from Rivals.com, as that recruiting service also regarded him as the nation's best "cover" safety and the seventh-best overall prospect in the state of North Carolina…Scout.com also awarded him four-star accolades and rated him the 15th-best cornerback in the prep ranks, along with calling him the state's third-best prospect…During his sophomore season, he earned All-State second-team honors, registering 126 tackles with ten pass deflections and six interceptions for a 10-3 Bulldogs squad that ranked eighth in the state of North Carolina in 2005…Also caused six fumbles and blocked six kicks…As a junior, Blanton was named All-State first-team by the Associated Press, again helping his team to a ranking of eighth in the state and a berth in the state playoffs, as the All-Southwestern Class 4AA League choice posted an area-best 147 tackles, breaking up twelve passes while picking off seven others during the 2006 schedule that saw Butler finish with a 12-3 record…Also saw brief action as a receiver, hauling in four passes for 86 yards (21.5 ypc)…Collected 128 tackles with seven interceptions, 25 pass deflections and six blocked kicks for a Bulldogs team that finished the season 10-3, earning a spot in the second round of the Class 4AA play-offs, as he also contributed sixteen receptions for 252 yards (15.8 ypc) in 2007…At the conclusion of his senior campaign, Blanton played in North-South Carolina Shrine Bowl… Also selected for the U.S. Army All- American Bowl in San Antonio, where he played both cornerback and safety…In basketball, he competed for Bulldogs' coach Kurt Wessler, but the Black & Platinum managed just an 11-12 record during his junior season…In track, he competed in the hurdles, in addition to surpassing 21 feet in the long jump and clearing 6-7 in the high jump…The Butler High honor roll student served as a first lieutenant in the school's JROTC program and received the coveted JROTC Scholastic Award…One of five finalists for Glenn Davis Award, a national award based on community service, academics and athletic accomplishment, and presented at U.S. Army All- American Bowl…Signed his national letter-of-intent to attend Notre Dame on October 19th, 2007.

PERSONAL
Finance major, enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business…Recognized as the Carolina Panthers Community Captain for his outstanding performance in the classroom and in the community during his days at Butler High School…Also served as a coach for a youth football team at the Youth Football Club of Mint Hill and was a spokesperson for Butler High's D.R.E.A.M. Team (Daring to Role-model Excellence as Athletic Mentors)…Son of Kathrine Edwards…Born 9/07/89 in Clackamas, Oregon...Resides in Matthews, North Carolina.

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