There are many NFL players who had remarkable potential but faded into obscurity and oblivion in the pro ranks.
Perhaps it’s time to include former Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Justin Blackmon in that not-so-elite group.
Blackmon picked passing defenses apart during his heyday at Oklahoma State.
Back then, he was every coach and offensive coordinator’s dream.
Regrettably, his NFL career turned into a nightmare almost as soon as it began.
Had he laid off the booze, there’s no telling how great he could have been.
Blackmon would’ve given guys like Michael Irvin, Randy Moss, and Calvin Johnson a serious run for their money.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
Justin Carl Blackmon was born on January 9, 1990 to parents Warren and Donna in Oceanside, CA.
Warren, a former marine, brought his family to Ardmore, OK after he accepted a position in that town’s Michelin branch.
Justin, who was a second-grader back then, didn’t approve the move.
“He was not happy about it at all,” the older Blackmon told TulsaWorld.com’s Jimmie Trammel in 2010. “He thought his dad was crazy to relocate from California to Oklahoma. He actually said he wished I had left him in California.”
anyone else remember Justin Blackmon, that WR the #Jaguars drafted 5th overall in 2012 and hasn’t played a game since 2013 after being suspended? Feel that’s a crazy story and no one ever talks about it… pic.twitter.com/73VuzkwRg6
— Andrew Luck (@FauxAndyLuck) August 6, 2018
Fast forward a decade later, Warren Blackmon moved to a Michelin office in South Carolina.
Justin, who was a senior at Plainview High School, loved his school so much he remained in Oklahoma.
Justin Blackmon wasn’t just a football star in high school.
He also played basketball and baseball.
Plus, he helped Plainview High School win a state title in the long jump competition.
Blackmon’s track coach, Johni Bell, dubbed him an “elite athlete,” per USA TODAY.
“Justin was such an elite athlete that he never had to train at the high school level to be better than others.”
“If he would have been dedicated in track, there’s no telling what he could have done.”
“He just knew where he was headed – to play football.”
Blackmon also excelled in roller hockey, snowboarding, choir, and the drums, per Trammel.
Justin’s versatility and charisma helped him become senior class president at Plainview.
That year, he and his senior Plainview Indians teammates decided to bleach their hair blond.
The new look never had a negative effect on Blackmon’s play on the field.
During Blackmon’s senior season, he recorded 61 catches, 1,547 yards, and 14 touchdowns.
He also added six special teams touchdowns and four pick-sixes.
The Ringer’s Jordan Ritter Conn aptly summed up Blackmon’s high school football career:
“The short version of what came next: he got very good at football.”
“He played both ways and dominated both sides and he sometimes made catches that even his teammates and coaches thought looked unreal.”
“He wasn’t a sprinter, but he was fast enough; he wasn’t a giant, but he was big enough; and he would run longer and harder and would leap higher and stretch farther than anyone who ever tried to cover him.”
“He remained something of a secret, a three-star recruit hidden down there in Southern Oklahoma.”
Once Justin Blackmon played his final down in high school football, he earned SuperPrep All-America honors as a wide receiver.
SuperPrep also named him the No. 12 prospect in the Midlands region and the No. 20 receiver prospect in the nation.
For its part, Scout.com named him the No. 58 prospect in the country.
Justin Blackmon was about to take the college football world by storm.
Oklahoma State Days
According to USA TODAY, the Colorado Buffaloes reached out to Justin Blackmon.
They wanted him to play the cornerback position.
Other schools recruited him for their basketball teams.
However, the Oklahoma State Cowboys called him up on Thanksgiving Day of his senior year at Plainview High School.
The Cowboys wanted him to become one of their wide receivers.
Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon, OSU Cowboys 2009 pic.twitter.com/xit4lVbxVP
— College Teammates (@NCAATeammates) October 1, 2018
The love affair with Blackmon began when Oklahoma State recruiters saw Blackmon driving down the lane and swooping in for a dunk during one of his basketball games.
At that moment, Cowboys head football coach Mike Gundy knew “we had ourselves a steal,” per Ritter Conn.
Once Blackmon’s official visit to Oklahoma State concluded, Gundy dangled a scholarship.
After consulting his mother outside Gundy’s office, Blackmon told the coach he wanted to don Cowboys Orange and Black.
Justin Blackmon redshirted his freshman year at Oklahoma State in 2008.
He wasn’t much of a factor the following year, catching for just 260 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions in 13 games.
Nonetheless, he took his play to stratospheric heights during his redshirt sophomore campaign in 2010.
That year, Blackmon caught for 1,782 yards and 21 touchdowns on 111 receptions in 12 appearances.
His insane performance helped the Cowboys win 11 of their 13 games during the 2010 NCAA season.
To nobody’s surprise, Blackmon won the 2010 Paul Warfield Award – a distinction the Touchdown Club of Columbus gives to the best receiver in the college ranks.
He joined some elite company.
Previous recipients of the Paul Warfield Award include Larry Fitzgerald, Santana Moss, Randy Moss, Keyshawn Johnson, and Desmond Howard.
— Alec Storm Musa (@alec_musa) October 5, 2018
Blackmon also earned the 2010 Fred Biletnikoff Award, an honor the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc. bestows upon the best college football receiver.
Past winners include Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, and Randy Moss.
Blackmon punctuated his magical campaign with 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions in the Cowboys’ resounding 36-10 Valero Alamo Bowl win over the Arizona Wildcats on December 30, 2010.
He also established an NCAA record by catching for 100 yards and a touchdown for the 12th straight game, per ESPN.
The lone blemish on Blackmon’s redshirt sophomore campaign was a one-game suspension stemming from his arrest on a misdemeanor DUI charge in October 2010.
Nonetheless, many experts thought Blackmon would leave Oklahoma State for the NFL.
However, he returned for his redshirt junior season in 2011.
Blackmon promptly picked up where he left off, catching for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns on 122 receptions in 13 games.
His exceptional play helped the Cowboys sport a gaudy 12-1 win-loss record during the 2011 NCAA season.
By season’s end, Blackmon had earned his second consecutive Paul Warfield Award and Fred Biletnikoff Award.
At that rate, Blackmon was another Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss in the making.
— Oklahoma State DieHards (@OSUDieHards) December 20, 2017
Oklahoma State also earned a spot in the 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal on January 2, 2012.
The Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon duo made all the difference in this one.
Weeden’s 399 passing yards, Blackmon’s three touchdown receptions, and Quinn Sharp’s 22-yard game-winning overtime field goal propelled the Cowboys to a narrow 41-38 victory over the Cardinal.
Oklahoma State never led until Sharp’s game-winner.
“Our team rallied,” Cowboys head football coach Mike Gundy told the team’s official athletics website. “Every time we got down, they just found a way to come back.”
Blackmon told the media after the game he will forgo his senior season to enter the 2012 NFL Draft.
Luck, who began his pro career with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts eight months later, threw for 347 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a losing effort.
Blackmon wrapped up his three-year career at Oklahoma State with 3,564 yards and 40 touchdowns on 253 receptions in 38 games.
A promising career in the National Football League beckoned for Justin Blackmon.
The Jacksonville Jaguars won just five of their 16 games during the 2011 NFL season.
They also missed the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
Could Justin Blackmon provide the spark the Jags – whose passing offense ranked dead last in the NFL – desperately needed?
It was an intriguing possibility.
Jacksonville made Blackmon the fifth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
— Jeremy Ratliff (@JeremyRatliff) April 27, 2018
The Jaguars traded up two slots so they could snag the high-octane Blackmon.
Interestingly enough, The Florida Times-Union’s Tania Ganguli reported the Jaguars “never brought him in for a visit.”
Because the Jags’ interest in the former Oklahoma State standout flew under the radar, even Blackmon was caught by surprise, per Ganguli.
Now that he was about to don Jaguars Black, Teal, and Gold, Blackmon told The Florida Times- Union he wasn’t feeling any pressure.
“No pressure. Not at all. It’s still football.
“This is what I’ve been doing for a while. When you start thinking about pressure and everything, you’re not thinking about the game. I like to focus on what I can focus on, and that’s playing football.”
For his part, then-Jaguars receivers coach Jerry Sullivan told Ganguli that Blackmon had the intangibles of a great football player:
“I think he’s got confidence and got a swagger about him.
“When he was at the combine, I introduced him to Michael Irvin. Michael and I are friends.
“Michael played the game with a lot of intensity and love of the game and great swagger. I think this kid has got some of those innate characteristics of guys that play the game really well.”
Blackmon got his NFL career off to a rocky start.
Authorities arrested him for the second time in less than two years due to aggravated DUI charges in Stillwater, OK on June 3, 2012.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 3, 2012
According to News 9’s Dee Duren, police pulled Blackmon over at 3:01 a.m. “for going 60 in a 30 mph zone and driving left of center.”
Blackmon also had a blood alcohol content of .24, which was three times the legal limit of .08 in Oklahoma, per News 9.
Despite his legal troubles, Blackmon suited up in all 16 games and caught for 865 yards and five touchdowns on 64 receptions.
Blackmon’s best game came in a 43-37 overtime road loss to the Houston Texans in Week 10.
He had 236 receiving yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.
It seemed Jacksonville had the game in the bag when Blackmon caught an incredible 81-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Henne with 12:33 remaining in regulation.
The PAT made it 34-20 in favor of the Jaguars.
Alas, Matt Schaub’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Andre Johnson’s 48-yard touchdown scamper in overtime sealed the Jags’ fate.
Prior to that breakout performance, he never caught for more than 67 yards in an NFL game.
It was also the only time Blackmon registered more than 100 receiving yards in a game in 2012.
Despite Blackmon’s efforts, the Jaguars were the laughing stock of the league.
They won a measly two games in the 2012 NFL season.
Looking to put that atrocious season behind him, Blackmon was eager for a fresh start in 2013.
Justin Blackmon turns 30 today. In ideal world, he's put together a good career. As is, he was suspended for substance abuse multiple times & hasn't played since early in 2013, his 2nd season. Had 865 yards as a rookie, including 236 in one game. pic.twitter.com/N98iPsQvfk
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) January 9, 2020
Regrettably, he took a major step backward.
The league suspended him for the first four games of the 2013 NFL season for violating its substance-abuse policy, per USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Garafolo.
Garafolo added Blackmon lost $289,754 in base salary during the latter’s suspension.
Blackmon apologized for his actions in a press release USA TODAY Sports obtained:
“I’ve made a mistake and I have no excuse.”
“I am truly sorry and disappointed in myself for putting the Jaguars in this situation, and I look forward to putting this behind me and maturing and growing as a person.”
After serving his suspension, Blackmon came out with all guns blazing.
He caught for 136 yards and one touchdown in Jacksonville’s 34-20 Week 5 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
The setback dropped the Jaguars to 0-5 on the season.
They’d go on to miss postseason play yet again.
As for Blackmon, he’d play just three more NFL games before legal issues took their toll on him.
On November 1, 2013, the NFL suspended him for the remainder of the season for violating its substance-abuse policy for a second time, per CBS Sports’ John Breech.
A second violation merited an eight-game suspension.
Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely for violating NFL's substance abuse policy. pic.twitter.com/WbGVI2iNRZ
— Ochocinco's OCNN (@ocnnreport) November 1, 2013
In Blackmon’s case, the Jaguars were 0-8 when he received the news so he sat out the remainder of the 2013 campaign.
He would’ve been eligible to apply for reinstatement before the 2014 NFL season.
Blackmon finished his underwhelming NFL career with 1,280 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions in just 20 games.
Justin Blackmon’s downward spiral was just beginning.
It turned out there’s another side to Justin Blackmon the public didn’t know about.
Apparently, this side had surfaced during his college days at Oklahoma State.
His two DUI arrests served as hard evidence.
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) April 3, 2015
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who previously owned the fifth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, were keen on adding Blackmon to their roster.
However, then-Buccaneers director of pro scouting Mark Dominik and Co. saw a major red flag.
It wasn’t until April 2015 when Dominik told The Herd With Colin Cowherd (via SI.com) a scouting report revealed Blackmon’s party-going ways wore thin on the Bucs:
“We found out there was a bar called the Cricket Inn, or the Cricket, which was a popular bar there at Oklahoma State.”
“And so (the scout) would sit there for a week. He sat there for one week, went in every day and stayed till 11 o’clock at night. That was his job.”
“And we checked: how many times did Justin Blackmon come in? And he came in too many times. And we took him off our board.”
Tampa Bay traded down with Jacksonville, who took Blackmon fifth overall.
Jeremy Dombek, Blackmon’s high school football coach at Plainview High, also saw a glimpse of the football star’s social life.
Dombek told The Ringer in 2016 he’d seen Blackmon buying drinks for his friends at Oklahoma State.
He also heard stories about Blackmon partying heavily on campus and back home.
“You know,” Dombek told the Jaguars scout (via The Ringer), “I think Justin might have an issue with alcohol.”
Almost nine months after Blackmon’s eight-game suspension, he got himself in trouble with the law yet again.
Authorities arrested Blackmon for marijuana possession in Edmond, OK on July 23, 2014.
Former OSU Football Player Justin Blackmon Arrested for Possession of Marijuana pic.twitter.com/NEJGDtr1bT
— The Sports Animal (@sportsanimal) July 24, 2014
“Police pulled Blackmon over for a traffic violation after he took a left turn into oncoming traffic,” per NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling.
Blackmon confessed to authorities he smoked a blunt behind the wheel.
According to The Associated Press (via ESPN), he “checked into a 90-day program at an undisclosed location” two months later.
Seven months later, the NFL denied him reinstatement into the league.
Police arrested Blackmon for substance abuse in December 2015.
Authorities pulled him over after they saw his brake light wasn’t working.
They smelled Blackmon reeking of alcohol. He confessed he and his companion drank at a local bar.
It was Blackmon’s “fourth substance abuse arrest,” per ESPN’s Michael DiRocco.
Ritter Conn reported in September 2016 Justin Blackmon had faded from the Oklahoma bar scene since his latest arrest.
Blackmon told a judge he had been living in the Dallas, TX area, per The Ringer.
He also revealed he drives to Oklahoma to visit his family every Sunday.
When Blackmon rejoined Instagram in May 2021, he hinted at a possible NFL comeback.
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) August 4, 2015
It all started when a fan asked him if a Trevor Lawrence-Justin Blackmon connection is in the offing any time soon.
“Let’s make it happen,” Blackmon replied (via CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr).
Should that comeback materialize, it’s hard to imagine Justin Blackmon playing football at the level he did before.
If he takes the field again after all he’s been through, it would be one hell of a feel-good story.