Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair puts versatility on display for NFL scouts
BOONE, N.C. - Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair went to last month’s scouting combine at 284 pounds to show NFL teams that he can play defensive end at the next level.
On Thursday he showed up to the Mountaineers’ pro day at 276 pounds to show teams that, if they want him to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, he can do that, too.
“I just wanted to show them that I’m not a one-trick pony,” Blair said. “I can do different things if you need me to. I’m not just going to be this specialist. If you need me on first down or third down, I’m there.”
Blair is trying to shed the “tweener” label: Too short to be a 4-3 defensive end but not athletic enough to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. His plan the past month-plus has been to show teams what he can do at both positions and let them pick where they want him.
While that’s to be determined, what is known is that Blair dominated with the Mountaineers. He had 12 1/2 sacks for Appalachian State in three seasons, including his 7 1/2-sack season in 2015 that earned him the conference defensive player of the year award.
“That’s the guy they (NFL teams) are looking for,” said Appalachian State strength coach Mike Sirignano. “Blair’s one of the best I’ve ever been around. He’s going to help you in the locker room and give you great leadership; he’s going to give you that dog-tough and he’s going to give you everything he’s got.
“All around that’s the total-package guy you’re looking for in the NFL.”
Opinions vary on Blair, who worked out Thursday for scouts from 21 NFL teams. He could go in the second or third round, but the odds are he’ll slide past that because of his size.
Ideally he’d be an inch or two taller than his 6-foot-2 if he’s going to be a 4-3 defensive end. If he needs to play outside linebacker, he has to work on his flexibility and footwork.
But at 276 pounds Wednesday, Blair shaved three-tenths of a second off his 40-yard-dash time from the combine. He went from a 5.15-second 40 to 4.84, a major improvement for a player his size.
A chance to shine
Of course, Blair wasn’t always this big. He came out of high school in Georgia as a second-team all-state player but was only 240 pounds at a smaller school.
Blair got a handful of offers from smaller schools like Georgia Southern and Presbyterian, but he picked Appalachian State after visiting the campus and getting chills from the recruitment video.
He put together a decent career leading up to 2015 before breaking out in the second game of the season against Clemson. The Mountaineers lost 41-10 to the Tigers, but Blair made an impression.
Playing nearly every position along the defensive line, Blair had two sacks on Deshaun Watson and two tackles for loss by the midpoint of the third quarter.
“My teammates hadn’t been to Death Valley and I hadn’t been to Death Valley, so it was a scary circumstance,” Blair said. “But if my teammates see me putting my best foot forward against top competition then they’re going to think the same thing – that I can outplay these guys.
“Once I got my momentum going I felt so comfortable. I felt like I couldn’t be blocked. It just felt really good. I did feel like the team needed me as a leader, because I’m an action first type of guy. I felt my actions helped make my team play really hard during the game.”
A versatile prospect
Although he’s just 6-foot-2, Blair has 34-inch-long arms and 10 1/4-inch hands. He also uses his leverage and hand speed well at defensive end, so what he lacks in height shouldn’t be a big deal.
But in case teams want him as an outside linebacker – or want to be sure he can drop back into coverage on third down – he did some of those drills Thursday.
On one, Blair followed an Indianapolis Colts scout as he directed him to run, move laterally and backpedal. He then had to break at a 45-degree angle and catch a pass from a scout.
Blair did all of that, then snagged the ball out of the air with only his left hand.
Scouts would have probably liked to see Blair move his feet and adjust to the pass, but the job got done nonetheless.
“I was pretty proud of the catch,” Blair said. “Like coach says, you need to put two hands on it, but as long as you secure it, that’s the only thing that matters.”
Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9