EAGAN, Minn. — The wait was worth it for Mekhi Blackmon.
The cornerback out of USC didn't mind becoming the final pick of the third round to conclude Friday's activity in the 2023 NFL Draft because the destination was so desired.
About four hours after the night began with the second round and 32nd overall pick of this year's draft — and well after Minnesota was initially on the clock at 87 — the Vikings tabbed Blackmon with the 102nd overall selection after trading down with San Francisco.
"I was waiting all night. I thought it was gonna come earlier, but you guys traded back," Blackmon told Twin Cities Media Members Friday night during a video interview. "I kind of anticipated I was probably gonna come to you guys – just praying and wishing I would. I took my visit out there, and I fell in love with the facilities and the coaching staff, so I was hoping I would land in Minnesota."
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah waited patiently. The Vikings had dealt this year's second-round pick to Detroit to acquire tight end T.J. Hockenson last fall. Having entered the draft with just five selections, Minnesota did not try to move up the board and instead opted to move down.
View photos of USC CB Mekhi Blackmon who was selected in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Vikings landed a player Adofo-Mensah described as a "super instinctive" corner.
"He's one of those guys who, throughout the route, there's a calculation going on at any moment," Adofo-Mensah said. "There's two things a receiver can do; he's trying to shrink their world, kind of, 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. Just somebody we're really happy we got where we did," Adofo-Mensah said. "He was somebody we wanted to take, actually, on our first pick before the trade back, but we got a good deal and decided to take the chance. Obviously, it's always treacherous, you know, there's guys coming off the board, there's a group of guys we were considering, but really happy with what we got. Really adds to that room, and [defensive backs coach] Daronte [Jones], B-Flo (Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores), everybody's excited to coach him."
The native of East Palo Alto, California, was in his home state awaiting the news and took a break from celebrating with family members to join the call.
Although the draft process dragged on, it will provide a quick reunion with former Trojans teammate Jordan Addison, who was selected by Minnesota Thursday night with the No. 23 overall pick. Addison traveled to Minnesota on Friday after attending the draft in Kansas City and described his love for football that began at age 3 as Vikings began explaining their plans for his artistry as a route runner.
Blackmon has seen Addison's talent up close for the past year, and both attended Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center when Minnesota hosted its Top 30 visits. The men of Troy will be scheduled to attend a rookie minicamp in two weeks.
"I think it's going to give both of us comfortability, just having somebody else that we know," Blackmon said. "We're familiar, we're going against each other at practice. But like I said, I fell in love with the coaching staff – they were down-to-earth guys and stuff like that – so I was going to be comfortable regardless of if he came or not. Just thankful he's with me, as well."
Blackmon's football journey has multiple chapters. A 0-star recruit coming out of high school, he first enrolled at College of San Mateo in 2017, helping the program go 11-2 before transferring to Colorado.
"My journey here will just teach you to stay humble," Blackmon said. "But at the same time, I have a lot of people back home looking up to me, and I always believed in myself – I just needed the opportunity. Once I got to college and I got it, there was no turning back."
While at Colorado, he overlapped for two seasons with cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who transferred to Oregon in 2022 and was selected by New England with the No. 17 pick on Thursday.
Blackmon started 19 of 27 games played for the Buffaloes from 2018-21 before transferring to Southern California.
Last season, he totaled career bests of 66 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups, helping USC go 11-3 and garnering Third-Team All-America honors from The Associated Press.
Pro Football Focus issued a 91.1 coverage grade for Blackmon, which led all Pac-12 cornerbacks last season.
"Just being with another staff, I had been with a lot of different coaching changes in Colorado, so I was just learning more and more," Blackmon said. "I would say it was a blessing in disguise. Going through different coaching changes, you kind of sit back and say, 'Man, I wish I could just sit back with a certain coaching staff and get developed,' but when I was dealing with a lot of different coaching staffs, I was able to get a lot of different information from different coaching staffs and stuff like that.
"So I would say just being around a lot of different people, you learn a lot, so I would say I was real blessed to be in the situation I was in, and I'm thankful it panned out," Blackmon added.
And for all the quality work he logged in those practices against Addison.
"It was give or take," Blackmon said of the matchups. "As you can tell, he's a real good receiver. But we made each other both better."
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, as part of NFL Network's coverage, described the practice battles.
"This is a cool story because at practice at USC, Mekhi Blackmon would go to the front of the line so he could work against Jordan Addison every day in practice," Jeremiah said. "Now they're both going to be going from Los Angeles to play together with the Minnesota Vikings.
"He transferred from Colorado where he played with Gonzalez, who we saw go to the Patriots in the first round," Jeremiah continued. "He is always in phase, always in position, very efficient mover. His red zone interception that he had this year against Stanford was one of the best interceptions of any defensive back in this class."
View photos from inside the Thomson Reuters Vikings Draft Room during the 2023 NFL Draft.
Analyst Joel Klatt said Blackmon and Tuli Tuipolotu (picked by the Chargers at No. 54) were bright spots for USC's defense last season.
"Blackmon at Colorado was a guy that made up the best part of their team obviously with Gonzalez in that secondary," Klatt said. "That was a huge loss when he went to USC, but that defense just never quite jelled, but he individually put together some great coverage tape, and he's certainly a tough player."
Vikings Legend Robert Smith, who was selected in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft, announced the selection from Kansas City.
Smith dedicated the selection to Frank Gilliam, Bud Grant, Fred Zamberletti and Dennis Green, who have passed away in recent years.