Robert "RJ" Blanton was a top-20 defensive back recruit out of high school, choosing Notre Dame over North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Michigan. He saw immediate action in 2008 as a true freshman with four starts, recording 33 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 3 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions (1 returned for a score). Blanton started the majority of the 2009 season as a sophomore (8 starts), finishing with 38 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 2 pass break-ups and 2 pick-offs.
He lost his starting job in 2010 as a junior (had only 1 start), recording 53 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions, adding a punt return for a score. Blanton started all 13 games in 2011 and had his best season as a senior, finishing with a career-high 70 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, 6 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.
Blanton is a talented athlete with good straight-line speed and toughness for his size and length - one of the better tackling defensive backs in this class. He was in and out of the starting line-up while at Notre Dame, but showed steady development over his career and had a productive senior season. Blanton might be best suited to move inside to free safety with his aggressive but upright and tight playing style ... has the size and competitiveness to get drafted, but is a liability in coverage and won't be high on many draft boards.
Strengths: Tall and athletic with plus length for the position (31" arms). He plays with the physical nature to shed defenders and work off blocks. Good toughness and recognition skills to fight through traffic and blow up screens. Plays with good fundamentals and takes accurate angles to the ballcarrier. A strong, aggressive tackler and doesn't back down against the run. Physical downfield and matches up well with bigger receivers. Tough and fiery with very good competitiveness ... high effort player. Has very good focus on interceptions to make the pick and return it for positive yardage. Has good starting experience with at least one start in each of his four seasons and 26 career starts. Productive and finished third on the team in tackles in 2011.
Weaknesses: Has only average long-speed and body flexibility. Opens his hips too early and allows himself to get turned around in coverage. Needs to improve his footwork and balance in coverage. Transitions out of his backpedal too early and doesn't look natural moving in reverse. Too hands-on downfield and is an easy target for defensive holding and pass interference penalties ' really struggles in this area. Has suspect anticipation and instincts, doing a lot of guessing. Misses too many assignments and makes poor reads, struggling to quickly decipher what the offense is doing. An inconsistent wrap tackler and tends to hit too high and doesn't always finish. Plays too far off the line of scrimmage and doesn't have a lot of experience in press coverage.
NFL Comparison: Keenan Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers
-- Dane Brugler