In the days leading up to the recent NFL draft, Ronald Blair was labeled “one of the most versatile and underrated D-line prospects” available.
Some projected he’d be a great third-round pick and that his versatility and athleticism would be coveted by a number of teams. In fact, Alex Reno, writing for the Detroit Free Press, said if Blair were available for the Lions in the third round, “he’d be an absolute steal.”
Instead, Blair fell all the way to the fifth round, where the 49ers selected him with the 142nd overall pick. After choosing him, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said he was delighted to be able to take Blair, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder who played a variety of positions along the defensive front for Appalachian State.
“He was one of my personal favorite players as we went through the process, and the coaching staff really liked watching him play,” Baalke said on a recent interview on KNBR. “The scouting staff that went in and did the evaluation of him was really high on him as well. He’s just a young man that has a lot of energy and a lot of raw, natural ability.”
At Appalachian State this past season, Blair was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and was in on 71 tackles with 7½ sacks. In college, Blair would line up everywhere up front, from over the center to the outer edge. His versatility could give the 49ers the ability to use him in a variety of ways. His quickness and leverage could make him a standout defender against the run.
Lance Zierlein, in his scouting report on Blair for NFL.com, noted Blair’s ability to get low against blockers.
“Good lateral quickness with his feet and is very effective as a pass rusher in twists up front,” he wrote of Blair. “Accelerates down the line to squeeze cutback lane against the run. Bodies up and drives his legs through his tackles making sure running backs feel it. Has effective arm-over as his go-to move. Good length with big hands for his size. Can generate a quality bull rush.”
Like the 49ers’ first-round pick, DeForest Buckner, Blair was a workhorse in college who rarely came off the field. Blair started 51 games and was in on 616 and 669 snaps the past two seasons, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
Blair believes he may have fallen to the fifth round because he had a strained hamstring at the NFL Combine in February and had gained a few extra pounds, so his performance wasn’t as strong as he’d hoped. He improved, however, at his later pro day.
Now Blair says he’s eager to start playing what 49ers defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has told him will be a versatile role on defense, similar in some ways to the way he was used in college.
“He talked about the possibility that I could be everywhere on the D-line,” Blair told Barrows. “So we’ll see how that goes. He says he has a plan for me. We haven’t discussed that plan yet.”