Sometimes, fanfare comes with production. And sometimes, it doesn’t. Joey Blount was one of the most productive defensive backs in college football over the past few seasons. And yet, he still goes overlooked on the NFL Draft circuit. But for Blount, the image factor isn’t important. For him, it’s all about staying true to the process that’s gotten him this far — and riding it all the way through April.
Joey Blount’s legacy in football
The call starts with a few technical difficulties. Some connection issues. That’s no problem for Blount. The Virginia safety just seems happy to be here — a permanent smile etched across his face. He may not be a projected first-round pick, but in Blount’s mind, he’s living the dream. He’s preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft, where he has a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps, and be selected within the first seven rounds.
Joey’s father, Tony Blount, was a defensive back for Virginia in the 1970s and was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Giants in 1980. He only played in one season, but the experience Blount’s father had helped bring Joey to the game of football. He started off playing flag football when he lived in California and has a distinct memory of when it clicked in his mind, that football was his future.
“I was playing for the Culver City Steelers in LA, California. We were in the championship game for the state. It was like the [age] 9-10 league — we called ourselves the Mighty Mites.
“I remember scoring a touchdown in that game, and there’s a picture where I’m running the ball. And my dad, who was coaching me, was in the background. So it’s like this surreal shot of me running with the ball, and my dad watching me run with the ball in a game. So I think after that game when we won, that was kind of where like, I wanted this to be my job for life. I wanted to play football every day.”
Finding his way in high school
Eventually, Blount’s family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he played quarterback and safety at Landmark Christian High School. Blount loved playing quarterback — and by his own admission, he had a solid arm. But after a broken wrist suffered just before high school, Blount couldn’t throw the ball the same way. He knew his future would be at safety.
Luckily for Blount, even limited experience at the quarterback position helped prepare him for his role at safety. In fact, Blount says he drew knowledge from those days that he still uses today. His time at quarterback helped make the transition easier.
“I translated all my knowledge of offense and knowing and understanding defenses to play DB. My dad played DB in college and in the NFL, too. So with his knowledge and coaching, just translating all my quarterback stuff. As a quarterback, what am I looking at for these reads?
“And now translating it to the defensive side where, ‘Okay, if I do this, he’s going to think this.’ So let me bait him or trap the quarterback into doing what I want him to do. Understanding alignments and formations as well. I’ve got the ability to see things before it happens, like my IQ. My instinct is what really shines out of my game.”
Choosing Virginia as his new home
Through high school, Blount wasn’t heavily recruited. He was listed as a two-star recruit at various outlets and didn’t field virtually any interest through his first two high school seasons. Junior year came around, and Blount wondered if he was entering the twilight of his football career. But soon enough, his dad’s alma mater — the Virginia Cavaliers — presented him with an offer.
Blount’s father never pressured Joey into following him to Virginia. He wanted the decision to be Joey’s alone. But the younger Blount visited Virginia’s campus soon after receiving an offer and fell in love with it the same way his father did. He was impressed by the staff, but the culture he felt was what truly sold him on the Cavaliers.
“I’m not really big on materialistic things like gear and all of that. And so the aspect of everything earned, not given — it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be worth it.”
Blount committed to the Cavaliers in April of 2016 and signed his letter of intent on February 1 the following year.
A storied Virginia career, forged by resilience
Blount eventually became a star for Virginia and put together one of the more productive careers by a defensive back in school history. Across five seasons and over 50 games played, Blount amassed 303 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 9 interceptions, 12 deflections, and 3 forced fumbles.
Blount won All-ACC honors numerous times and was also a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy in 2020 for his work in the community and his studies on toxic masculinity and LGBTQ awareness.
A leader on and off the field, Blount made the most of his time in Charlottesville. But he didn’t simply show up and become great. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of playing through injuries — but also seizing opportunities when they came. Blount shared a quote from a former teammate Quin Blanding, who told him: “You don’t miss opportunities that you’re given, because you never know when you’ll get another opportunity.”
For Blount, preparation is key to following through with that mindset. “I want to be better than I was yesterday, and I want to be even better tomorrow than I was today.”
Earning a Hula Bowl invite with his play
Blount knows, at this point, what perseverance leads to. That hard-working mentality helped him earn an offer from Virginia, and it helped him gain all-conference acclaim in college. Blount leaves no opportunity to waste, even if he’s banged up. In his eyes, he always wants to take authority as a playmaker, if he can.
“My mindset, my mentality was, if I can still walk, if I can still bend what’s hurt, I’m going to play.”
Even when Blount couldn’t play, he made sure he made an impact. He sought to help in any way he could when missing games — anything from film study to grabbing water for players.
With his upstanding record on and off the field, Blount eventually earned an opportunity to play at the Hula Bowl, an invitational all-star game in Orlando, Florida.
“Unbelievable,” Blount said of the opportunity, and what it meant to him. “Speechless. I was just so blessed to be there.”
Not only did Blount show up, but he caught the game-winning interception in the game itself. Even more important for Blount was the teaching he received from coaches during the week. That was important for Blount, whose quest for self-improvement never ends.
“I always say there’s a lot more room to be better, and I’m always open to constructive criticism. I always want to make my game better.”
Blount prides himself on his versatility, discipline
Being productive and a good locker room addition can never hurt a player. But if you want to be a contributor on an NFL defense, you have to be more. You have to be disciplined, and perhaps more importantly for an NFL safety, you have to be versatile. That’s not something Blount is shying away from.
Blount wants to be a chess piece at the next level. And he says his experience at Virginia can help him accomplish that.
“I’ve done so much in my career, that I can tap into so many different abilities. I’m dropping in the box and boxing out pullers. I’m dropping as a linebacker. Just running to the ball. Three hook zones, man coverages and guarding the slots and tight ends, guarding running backs. Single-high, going sideline to sideline.
“So just being versatile, whatever it may be, whatever scheme I need to fit in. I’m going to be the best I can. I’ve been introduced to so many different things, technique-wise, formations, concepts — that I feel like I can do everything on the field.”
No matter what he’s doing, however, Blount emphasizes discipline more than anything. Sometimes, the key to doing what you need to do is not trying to do too much.
“I just do my job on my assignment, the best I can. My one-eleventh.”
Defensive backs Blount aims to emulate
Unsurprisingly, Blount draws from a range of NFL defensive backs, to supplement his versatile skill set. He mentions Budda Baker, Tyrann Mathieu, and Jessie Bates III as some of his favorites, but settles on Denver Broncos star Justin Simmons as the one he aims to emulate most.
“I really like Justin Simmons. There’s a play versus the Dolphins in 2020, where he baited [Ryan] Fitzpatrick to throw this seam route, and he picked it off and he was like, I saw it coming.
“And then there was a play with Patrick Mahomes. It was snowing out. [Simmons] recognized Patrick Mahomes trying to break out of the pocket. He knew from the prior game, earlier in the year, that [Mahomes] was going to throw it to the pylon. So he left his assignment and ran all the way across the field, made a play on the ball, and had an interception.”
In Blount’s admiration for Simmons, there’s a subtle realization. Discipline is important, but if you watch the tape and see a play developing, it’s your job to trigger on it and make that play. That responsibility as a playmaker is something Blount held close at Virginia, and he’s bringing it with him to the NFL.
Going through the process, with the hope of being drafted
Over the course of his journey, Blount has set periodic goals. His latest goal is to show out at the Virginia Pro Day on March 23. Blount wants to run a 4.4. He says he can do it. But even after testing, Blount knows that the work is far from over. And whether he gets drafted or not, that doesn’t change. Nevertheless, being drafted is Blount’s ultimate goal.
“I want to get drafted. That’s just been a dream of mine. Getting my name called out to a team.”
But even if he isn’t drafted, Blount knows his fate is in his hands. He wants to make a roster, whether it’s on special teams or defense. He wants to be a contributor and eventually win a Super Bowl. But Blount knows more than anyone, you need to take advantage of your opportunities, to earn more opportunities.
“I want to get my head down and grind, for whatever team gives me a chance.”
That’s how Blount has made his climb to the top at every level. Blount doesn’t relish the glory. He relishes the chance.