Defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon became all-time USC Trojans Nos. 521 and 522 to be drafted on Friday evening. Tuipulotu went to the Los Angeles Chargers in the second round with the No. 54 overall pick of the draft. Blackmon got into the third round as the No. 102 overall and final pick of the round by the Minnesota Vikings.
Here’s a look at some of the sights, sounds and reactions to those picks.
Tuipulotu Stays in Los Angeles
Tuipulotu received a call from Chargers’ GM Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley. All three expressed happiness that Tuipulotu would be able to stay close to home for this next step in his football career. Then Staley laid out the expectations and why Tuipulotu was the right pick for them at No. 54.
“You’re coming into a tremendous defensive group, both coaches and players,” Staley said. “Just so excited about what you bring to the table. You represent the type of player that we’re trying to build this program with. Toughness, physicality and a lot of playmaking ability. So, can’t wait to get started with you, man.”
Tuipulotu will join an edge rusher group that already features Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. One of the selling points for Tuipulotu during this draft process is his versatility and ability to play defensive tackle or out on the edge. He was announced as a linebacker by the Chargers when they drafted him.
“I’m blessed,” Tuipulotu said in a later call. “Coming into the league, that’s what I wanted. I wanted vets to learn from. And man, Joey Bosa and Khalil [Mack]? That’s crazy. I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m a sponge, so I’m going to absorb all the info they give me and just try to get better. And make an impact on the team.”
Blackmon Heading to Minnesota
Blackmon will join USC teammate Jordan Addison in Minnesota. Those practice battles should feel pretty familiar for those two, who went up against each other every chance they got while at USC.
Blackmon was an interesting case heading into the draft. He was regularly mocked and listed down in the sixth or seventh-round range. But he was a standout at the Senior Bowl and performed very well at the NFL Combine as well. It always seemed like a team would like him enough to jump into the top three or four rounds for him.
Minnesota GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spoke about what they say in Blackmon.
“Really excited about Mekhi Blackmon,” Adofo-Mensah said in a press conference, adding that they brought Blackmon in for a top-30 visit during the draft process. “Really enjoyed talking to him. But obviously everything starts with the film, the evaluation. Super instinctive corner. He’s one of those guys who, throughout the route there’s a calculation going on at any moment. There’s two things that a receiver can do. He’s trying to shrink the world for the receiver. Plays really physical. Plays with good vision on the quarterback. I think there’s a skill to knowing when to look at the ball. Not everybody has it. He does. Somebody who’s aggressive in the run game. Somebody we’re really happy we got where we did.”
The No. 102 pick the Vikings used to take Blackmon came from the San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings originally held the No. 87 overall selection. Adofo-Mensah said they were targeting Blackmon at that spot but decided to take a chance he’d still be there at No. 102 as the Vikings also picked up picks in round 5 and 7 from the 49ers.
“Really happy with what we got,” Adofo-Mensah said.
Vikings senior vice president of player personnel Ryan Grigson also offered some thoughts on Blackmon.
“Can play inside and outside equally well, on or off in coverage,” Grigson said. “He’s a crisp mover. Plays with burst, plays with energy, plays with instincts. He’s usually right in the receiver’s hip, really no matter how he’s being used. He’s a guy who blankets receivers. But he’s also a football player. He’s not just a pure cover guy. He’s elusive to the ball in the run game, he can tackle. And he’s a pretty complete corner.”
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