Leading up to the Eagles playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII on February 12, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the underappreciated, unsung players on the Eagles roster that have made this NFC Championship and Super Bowl berth possible. Players who were often overlooked but have become key cogs in the machine despite the lack of recognition.
In this edition, we will focus on safety Reed Blankenship.
High School Career
Blankenship was a do-it-all player for West Limestone High School in Alabama. He played quarterback, running back, receiver, etc. All told, he provided over 2,400 yards of offense (over 1,300 of which came on the ground) and accounted for 27 touchdowns.
Blankenship also played basketball in high school and it may have even been a consideration for something he’d do in college. As Blankenship ended his junior year of high school, he had yet to receive and offer. He told The News Courier:
I started the summer thinking that I’m never going to get an offer. But as soon as they started coming in, it blew my mind.Reed Blankenship, The News Courier
I started the summer thinking that I’m never going to get an offer. But as soon as they started coming in, it blew my mind.
It was that June that offers began to come in. Blankenship had earned a spot in the recruiting game by making himself a late riser in the 2017 cycle, but his offense was not something colleges were looking to capitalize on. They figuring he’d be a better fit for the defensive side of the ball.
While he did become a three start prospect and receive Division I offers, he did not receive any from teams that would be considered favorites for major bowl games. Teams such as Minnesota, Southern Miss, Arkansas State, Illinois, Georgia State, Troy and Tulane were among his offers. Beyond that, he was not heavily recruited by any of those teams – they did not make him a priority as they hoped to secure other players in the cycle.
It was Middle Tennessee State that showed Blankenship that he was a priority for them and secured his commitment in August of 2016. Illinois came in late (very late) making Blankenship a priority in January, but Blankenship had made a decision and decided to stick with the program who had made him a priority throughout the recruiting cycle.
Blankenship paid off for Middle Tennessee State right away, becoming a regular in the defense during his freshman season. He registered 68 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions as a freshman. By the second week of the season, he was already helping his team beat ACC opponents.
His head coach said after a win over Syracuse:
To be the second game of the year and he’s a true freshman and he’s earned a starting position, is a compliment to him and his skill-set – but also a compliment to him and how he’s comprehended everything. How’s he learned the defense and how he’s played. I mean, he made some really nice tackles in space. He knows what he’s doing. Made a great interception… He’s going to be a really good player.MTSU Head Coach Rick Stockstill, Via Middle Tennessee Athletics YouTube
To be the second game of the year and he’s a true freshman and he’s earned a starting position, is a compliment to him and his skill-set – but also a compliment to him and how he’s comprehended everything. How’s he learned the defense and how he’s played. I mean, he made some really nice tackles in space. He knows what he’s doing. Made a great interception… He’s going to be a really good player.
In just the second game since Blankenship joined the team, his head coach was thoroughly impressed with all aspects of his game, particularly with his tackling and the game-sealing interception. Even at that time, he had shown a football IQ that was above that of many players in college football, regardless of level of play, and was the top safety on his team’s depth chart.
He took another step forward in his sophomore campaign, putting up 107 tackles with four interceptions and a sack to go along with seven defensed passes. He was looking to be a breakout star recognized across college football in 2019 when he was first named a team captain, but in his seventh start saw him suffer a severe ankle break. He had to be carted off the field and shortly thereafter is when COVID hit. This meant Blankenship had a slower recovery and a non-normal season in what would have been his senior year.
Granted an extra season of eligibility by the pandemic, Blankenship returned to the program in 2021 and threw up 110 tackles (10 for loss) that made him the all-time leading tackler for MTSU. He also added a sack, an interception, eight defensed passes, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles.
Blankenship was an All-Conference player and record holder for MTSU, but that didn’t mean he would be a top draft pick. There are some scouting profiles that were willing to give him a late-round grade, but the majority of them listed him as an undrafted prospect. In fact, the NFL’s report even reads as though Blankenship is not a good/solid tackler something which would seem to have been disproven across his five college years.
The ultimate result was that there was no team that selected Blankenship in the draft. The Eagles offered him a contract and made him nearly the lowest paid player they brought in when he signed as an undrafted free agent.
Blankenship did get into the Eagles preseason games, and was impressive from preseason game one. After that game, I named him the first guy I saw as getting on the in-road to a roster spot, writing:
He put on tape a strong ability to get to the play and to make the tackle on special teams and on defense, even from a deep safety position. The one thing working against him in this contest was that the Jets became a run-heavy offense with short passes, so Blankenship was not tested in coverage. What he did in the open field in the run game should be enough to earn him a closer look and put him on the in-road to a spot on the roster or practice squad.Paul Bowman, SportsTalkPhilly.com
He put on tape a strong ability to get to the play and to make the tackle on special teams and on defense, even from a deep safety position. The one thing working against him in this contest was that the Jets became a run-heavy offense with short passes, so Blankenship was not tested in coverage. What he did in the open field in the run game should be enough to earn him a closer look and put him on the in-road to a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Ultimately, that play did get him the eyes needed and the Eagles chose to keep him on the 53-man roster, though he was a gameday inactive to start the season.
With that, Blankenship put his head down and got to work in practice. He saw a few games where he was active, but he did not come off the inactive gameday list for good until Week 9. By that point, he had earned the coaches’ trust and would be in line to play special teams and be a backup for the secondary.
While the team tried Josiah Scott and K’Von Wallace first, Blankenship was pressed into action due to further injuries. His first extended look (in Week 12) saw him pick off Aaron Rodgers and he’s been a major player for the team ever since.
Since then, he’s been the preferred option to play. He’s grown into the team’s top defensive back on the bench. Even once Chauncey Gardner-Johnson returned, the Eagles opted to move him to the nickel in place of the injured Avonte Maddox so that Blankenship could be the fifth defensive back on the field.
He’s totaled 45 tackles in parts of 12 games this season (including playoffs), but he’s appeared in only eight where he played more than a handful of defensive snaps and has started just five games.
By starting in the Divisional Round, he became the first (and so far only) Eagle to start on defense as an undrafted rookie. He’s already registered 11 tackles in the postseason and will surely be looking to add some more come Sunday night.