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Sleeper Starting Safety: The New Addition That Could Become An Eagles Starter

Howie Roseman has utterly transformed Philadelphia’s roster.

The Eagles’ GM has had an incredible offseason. Roseman managed to address every major deficiency on the roster. He was able to strengthen weak positional groups, while simultaneously injecting youth into aging strengths. Impressively, he leveraged a diverse array of player acquisition methods en route to snagging value at every turn.

Among the litany of shrewd moves, one may have flown well below the radar, perhaps the exact way Roseman intended. Let’s explore the UDFA signing that has the opportunity to become a new Eagles starter:

Who Is Reed Blankenship?

Reed Blankenship is now a safety on the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster.

The Middle Tennessee University product was signed shortly after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft. While the move did not make substantial headlines when compared to other undrafted free agent acquisitions, we should not skim over his potential.

The Eagles brought in a total of 12 UDFA prospects. Blankenship will be overshadowed by the steals of QB prospect Carson Strong and defensive backs Josh Jobe and Mario Goodrich.

The MTSU safety was a high school quarterback. Blankenship played five years for the Blue Raiders and was a three-time captain for the team. He hopes to join Titans’ safety Kevin Byard and 49ers’ cornerback Charvarius Ward as MTSU defensive back alumni who found great success at the NFL level. His mix of natural play instincts, physicality and intangibles certainly flash that potential.

Reed Blankenship As A Prospect: The Good

Reed Blankenship is certainly an intriguing prospect.

The 6’1″, 200 lbs. safety stands out immediately on tape, which is a rarity at his position. Blankenship’s fluidity, instincts and physicality made him an exemplary run defender. The MTSU stud was somehow always around the ball, aggressively closing on the reads he quickly diagnosed. His play recognition was sensational when working flat-footed and playing in front of him.

Blankenship was tasked with a diverse array of roles for the Blue Raiders. They asked him to line up in the slot, the box, deep, and shallow. He seemed to excel the most when allowed to make plays in front of him, closing aggressively and not shying away from big, physical hits. He rarely misses tackles and was able to take down ballcarriers even if he was out of position.

Reed Blankenship As A Prospect: The Concerns

Conversely, Blankenship had some concerns viewed on tape also. He does not have the smoothest backpedal and lacks the natural speed to run with the NFL’s fastest wideouts. He must be able to recover better and reposition in deep coverage.

Furthermore, Blankenship’s aggressiveness makes him extremely dynamic, but did leave him exposed in coverage at times. He must develop the balance between patience and instinctive reads, to prevent him from being out of position on big plays. In this context, Blankenship’s performance against Virginia Tech illustrated this concern clearly.

Vs. Virginia Tech

I would like to highlight three plays in particular from this matchup. At 9:09 left in the third quarter, Blankenship comes down to try and take away the comeback route from the outside receiver. There is already a defensive back over the top of the man and, as a result of seeking for the big play, the inside receiver slips by for a huge gain. It is a total blown assignment and costs his team greatly.

On the following play, Blankenship clearly looks more passive and affected by the previous play. He works laterally and backwards as the quarterback scrambles. He shows an uncharacteristic passivity towards his engaged block to clearly ensure he does not give up any run behind him.

Perhaps most concerning, the third consecutive poor snap from Blankenship results in him appearing passive once again. He comes down too close on the quarterback on the option play but comes down too far to recover and not hard enough to allow him to accelerate in recovery. The play results in an opposing touchdown. While not directly his fault, it certainly does not appear like he has moved past the previous play.

Where To Improve?

While they are just three plays, it was the only thing in Blankenship’s tape that looked truly troublesome. Unfortunately, he seemed rattled within these snaps.

While Blankenship must improve his coverage and recovery skills, he showed vastly exceptional safety instincts and skill in his time at college. His intangibles, as well as his intense physicality and seamless fit for a zone scheme will make him an absolute stud under Jonathan Gannon’s tutelage. Once the defensive coordinator can shorten the rookie’s memory for mistakes and unleash him to play aggressively, he has the potential to become a fantastic starting safety in the NFL.

Reed’s Collegiate Career

We have heard about Blankenship’s traits as a prospect. These characterizations and tendencies can certainly be argued, compared and doubted. What simply cannot be questioned is his incredible production for the Blue Raiders in his five-year collegiate career.

Blankenship racked up stats in his 53 outings for the Blue Raiders. His nose for the ball was supported by his phenomenal tackle tally of 419, exceptional for a safety. He had 26.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. The MTSU defensive leader also amassed nine interceptions and 19 passes defended, showing an ability make plays and force turnovers.

His final season at MTSU was the icing on the cake. Blankenship exploded for a career-high 110 tackles, ten in the backfield, and eight passes defended. He also flashed his playmaking chops by forcing two fumbles, recovering three and having a touchdown. All in just 13 contests of dominant play.

He is the perfect supplementary playmaker for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense.

Blankenship’s Impact As An Eagle

So how does Blankenship fit as a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles? Does his name deserve to be in the first-team column of the depth chart alongside Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Anthony Harris?

The truth is, he is most certainly a risk.

The safer (get it?) move is to insert the incumbent starter Marcus Epps at strong safety. He insures the position against any significant volatility. He was emphatic against the ground attack last season, grading out at a 87.6 in run defense by PFF. That elite production is outstanding for a situational safety.

Moreover, his pass coverage was bad, as the 117.3 passer rating allowed when targeted suggests, but he was only targeted 28 times. This relatively small sample size may allow for some natural improvement in this area.

That being said, the Eagles should consider starting Blankenship. The three-time MTSU captain clearly showed the ability to be aggressive, physical and instinctive all over the field. His run support should rival Epps’ and his coverage certainly could have higher upside.

As a result, there certainly should be serious consideration from the coaching staff to insert him and his playmaking ability into Gannon’s zone scheme. With the freedom to play aggressively, in tandem with playmakers like Darius Slay, he should be able to generate turnovers in the bent-don’t-break scheme.

If he doesn’t pan out as the starter, his tackling skills and closing speed make him a potentially elite special teams contributor. As a result, Blankenship should have no issue at all galvanizing himself as a permanent roster member.

What do you think? Do you like this UDFA signing?

Let us know in the comments below.

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