Over the next few months, we’re taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. However, we pause today to look at a recent veteran addition with defensive end Ronald Blair.
The 28-year old Blair is listed at 6’4” and 270 pounds and was a fifth round pick in 2016. Blair has only started two games in his career but has been a productive rotational defender with the 49ers since being drafted. He has 88 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in his career.
Blair wasn’t a highly sought-after high school recruit despite being the Georgia Region 4-AA Defensive Player of the Year in his senior year with 112 tackles, nine sacks and a 70-yard pick six.
He eventually opted to attend Appalachian State, where he started 51 games over the next five years. After starting 24 games in the first two seasons and racking up 100 tackles and 6.5 sacks, Blair was injured two games into his junior year and opted to take a medical redshirt.
In his redshirt junior season, he was a second team all-conference selection as he recorded 43 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks.
His final year saw him go one better as a first team selection with career highs for tackles (71), tackles for loss (19) and sacks (7.5). He also had a pick-six.
Blair posted poor numbers at his combine workout, which saw him get injured part of the way through, but he got in better shape in time for his pro day and raised his stock by improving most of his numbers. The 49ers eventually selected him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.
After contributing 16 tackles and three sacks as a rotational rookie, Blair had a productive start to the 2017 season and made the first two starts of his career but then got injured and missed the last 10 games.
He bounced back in 2018 to post career highs in tackles (36) and sacks (5.5) and was having another solid season in 2019 when another injury saw him placed on injured reserve in November.
He did not play in 2020 as he suffered a setback during the rehab process and wasn’t able to get back on the field.
Now let’s take a look at what Blair brings to the table, divided into categories.
As noted, Blair’s combine workout numbers were poor as he weighed in at 284 pounds and injured his quad while running his 40-yard dash. However, he did post a solid 32 reps in the bench press.
At his pro day less than five weeks later, Blair had dropped weight down to 270 and he dramatically improved his speed and explosiveness numbers with an excellent 4.85 in the 40-yard dash, 33.5-inch vertical and 119-inch broad jump. He was, however, unable to improve upon his poor agility numbers from the combine.
Blair lacks ideal length but is otherwise essentially the prototypical size for a defensive end in a four-man front.
In college, Blair played mostly as a 3-4 defensive end, although he did sometimes line up outside the tackle or inside. However, he’s mostly played as a 4-3 end at the NFL level.
In his rookie year, he actually played the majority of his reps on the interior but since then, he’s only played inside on rare occasions.
When lined up outside, Blair nearly always has his hand in the dirt, primarily in a four-point stance. That’s not necessarily a requirement of the system because Dee Ford was usually standing up when he played on the edge. It was rare for Blair to be standing up at the snap but he has played both on the right and on the left.
Blair is a hard working player who gives a good effort in the trenches and plays to the whistle. He shows that effort on this play.
He played a full time role in college but never played 40 snaps in a game until 2018 at the NFL level. However, he eventually played over 500 snaps that year, including 50 per game over the last month of the season, so he can potentially handle a starters’ workload.
Blair has developed well against the run and was having his most consistent season as a run defender when he got injured in 2019. His strength is an asset here, as it enables him to hold up well at the point of attack.
However, he also is quick out of his stance and explosive enough to shoot gaps into the backfield.
He will need to be able to set the edge in this system but he can also move well laterally and also shows that he can penetrate and shed his blocker on this play.
Blair also gives a good effort when chasing plays down from the backside and out to the sideline.
As a pass rusher, Blair’s pressure numbers haven’t been great, but he has registered 13.5 sacks, including 5.5 in 2018.
He is at his best when he can gain a leverage advantage coming off the edge. This enables him to use his strength to get around the corner.
When coming off the edge, he shows that he can use good deception by leaning inside and then bursting outside as he does on this play.
Blair can also be effective on stunts, showing some good aggression on this play to get to the quarterback.
Blair doesn’t have an arsenal of exotic pass rush moves but is technically proficient with what he does. He uses his strength here to gain that outside leverage advantage and then transitions into a rip move to get around his man.
On this play, he does a good job of slapping the offensive tackle’s hands away to maintain clean separation off the edge.
Against the run, Blair usually does a good job with his pad level and in how he uses his hands.
Blair has had decent production as a tackler and does a good job of closing in the open field and wrapping up in space. His 2019 knee injury came on a clutch play where he dragged Russell Wilson down in space, for example.
He doesn’t miss a lot of tackles, but even when he does miss one here, it’s telling that he still hustles back to make a tackle and that he shows visible frustration at himself for not having made the play in the backfield.
Blair doesn’t drop into coverage very often, but he has shown the ability to do so effectively on film.
Even on this play where he gives up a downfield catch, Blair disrupts the tight end at the line and stays close to him on a downfield route.
Blair can make some plays in coverage. He had pick-sixes in college and high school and also had another pass defensed in college.
Blair obviously does a lot of film preparation because you often see him anticipate and react well to pre-snap keys.
On this play, he immediately senses the screen pass and drops off to hustle back and get in on the stop.
However, he can be fooled by deception. He misread this play and crashed inside on the end around to leave a big running lane open.
Blair was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s defensive student-athlete of the year while at Appalachian State.
Blair has made some contributions on special teams, primarily rushing kicks and punts. However, he’s also displayed an ability to contribute as a blocker on the return units.
He also safely fielded one kickoff with the 49ers as the kick was laid up short.
Blair is probably less likely to be required to play on special teams coming off an injury though.
Blair is known to be a favorite of current Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who said he “loves him to death” and praised his on-field and off-field approach. 49ers general manager Jon Lynch also praised his character.
On the field, he has just three penalties in four years - two for jumping offside and one for defensive holding.
He was a two-time captain and one of the team’s main leaders while at Appalachian State.
Blair suffered a torn ACL in 2019, but his recovery initially seemed to be going well as he was running again within four months. However, he then suffered a setback and ultimately had to have a follow-up surgery in 2020 that caused him to miss the entire season. Whether or not he’s fully recovered will dictate his roster chances.
He has also had issues with his thumb in the past. A severe injury in 2013 caused him to miss most of the season and seek a medical redshirt and then he injured his thumb again when he landed on injured reserve in 2017.
His combine workout was wrecked by a quad injury suffered while running his 40-yard dash.
As noted, Blair is a favorite of Saleh and has been hand-picked by the Jets because he fits into their system. While he’s never worked with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich before, Blair should be more than at home with Ulbrich running Saleh’s defense.
He can compete for time as a strong side end in the base package and may also get rotational reps off the bench in pass rush situations.
Blair was a teammate of Matt Cole, Tevin Coleman and Austin Walter while in San Francisco.
Blair is a solid locker room addition who could have a useful role as a mentor if he’s fully healthy now.
He’s always been a reliable and productive reserve for the 49ers and is capable of making the occasional splash play to make an impact.
The Jets have a lot of options on the defensive line, including a couple of promising youngsters, but if Saleh is so fond of Blair, it’s going to take a lot for one of them to bump him out of the rotation.