Watching Saeed Blacknall play football over the last two years has been somewhat maddening. He is the ultimate example of a guy who is capable of producing moments of brilliance – his touchdown catch against Ohio State from his freshman year is the ultimate example – but then he just kinda...disappears. He has 18 total catches in his Penn State career. Those 18 catches have produced 343 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. These are all pretty good numbers (19ish yards per catch!), but in the 26 games that Blacknall has played in, he has caught passes in 11 of them.
So, what gives? How can a guy as talented as Blacknall not be a factor for such long periods of time? Is it a depth chart thing? Was it the way he was used in John Donovan's offense? Was it on Blacknall?
Honestly, I have no idea. Blacknall is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, the kind of guy who possesses every single ounce of talent that you could ever imagine and the kind of guy who is capable of busting out big plays regularly, just not the kind of guy who has ever got any consistent run.
And I think that's the issue. Watching Saeed Blacknall over the last few years has been rough because he just doesn't consistently get the chance to show off what he can do. I mean, the dude is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds. That's usually right around the ideal size for a big, physical receiver...but he also runs a 40-yard dash 4.39 seconds, so he has the speed that can break a game wide open.
This is a guy that you just want on the football field because he is capable of changing the game. Here are the numbers of snaps he got in each game, per Dan's snap counts posts (the number in parentheses is where he was ranked among wide receivers in that game, and data from Temple and Northwestern was gathered but never posted):
- Temple – 18 snaps (4th among wide receivers)
- Buffalo – 6 (5)
- Rutgers – 16 (3)
- San Diego State – 22 (4)
- Army – 19 (3)
- Indiana – 17 (5)
- Ohio State – 20 (3)
- Maryland – 8 (6)
- Illinois – 23 (4)
- Northwestern – 16 (4)
- Michigan – 11 (4)
- Michigan State – 17 (4)
- Georgia – 18 (4)
So Blacknall had a role on the team as a guy who got a little run but never really got the chance to carve out a role as, well, anything. Plus it always seemed like he was a dude who was the lead blocker on wide receiver screens (which, God willing, is a thing we never see with any kind of consistency ever again). He got his chances to be a matchup nightmare who stretched the field, as San Diego State remembers, but it never happened frequently.
I am willing to guess that a good portion of it had to do with the depth chart at wide receiver, and that's fine. Chris Godwin was Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton was DaeSean Hamilton, and Geno Lewis got more and more comfortable as the year went on. These things, along with the fact that Brandon Polk played a lot in some games (even though he didn't touch the ball too much, that's another topic for another day), meant that Blacknall got knocked down the depth chart. There was also the whole "Penn State used tight ends and extra blockers a lot" thing and there just weren't enough snaps to go around.
This is why I'm optimistic for Blacknall during the Joe Moorhead era. Moorhead believes in spreading the field and letting your athletes beat up on opponents. That's, like, the exact thing that Blacknall should do. Let him be a freak of nature who can't be covered by any team that tries to man him up. The departure of Lewis (and, in a way, the departure of Kyle Carter, since we *probably* won't see as many multi-tight end sets this year) should free up some snaps.
Allocating snaps to Penn State's wealth of receivers should be tough, as there are a lot of guys and a limited number of snaps. That issue becomes even tougher when you assume that Godwin and Hamilton will play a fair amount. But considering how talented Blacknall is – how he is a mix of size, strength, and speed that no other receiver on Penn State's roster possesses right now – he needs to get on the field as much as possible.
Play Saeed Blacknall more. Have him be a matchup nightmare. Watch what happens. Instead of being Penn State's most underrated player, he will become one of Penn State's most dynamic weapons on the offensive side of the ball.