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From long shot to Super Bowl, Eagles’ Reed Blankenship reflects on improbable year

From long shot to Super Bowl, Reed Blankenship reflects on improbable year originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

He wasn’t just an undrafted rookie.

He was at the bottom of the heap of undrafted rookies.

Carson Strong got $320,000 guaranteed. Noah Ellis got $250,000, Kennedy Brooks $240,000, Mario Goodrich $217,000, etc.

Reed Blankenship? He got $55,000 to sign with the Eagles, which put him approximately 89th on the 90-man training camp roster. Linebacker Ali Fayad didn’t get any guaranteed money.

That’s what Blankenship was up against when OTAs began.

Long shot?

Blankenship was about as long a shot as you could imagine. Heck, at that point he was a longshot for the practice squad.

“You know, coming in undrafted, one of the lowest guys on the totem pole, I knew I had to work,” he said. “I knew the odds were against me, and I still feel like there’s odds against me.

“I play with a chip on my shoulder still and I’m not going to lose that for the rest of my career. That’s how I was raised and that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of my career.”

Blankenship was a five-year starter at Middle Tennessee State but did not get invited to the Combine. Same old story. Supposedly too slow, too small, etc. One draft website said he was a weak tackler, which is pretty funny if you’ve watched him play.

But from the 89th when training camp started, Blankenship gradually worked his way up, and his long odds gradually grew shorter. He was smart, he was physical, he was instinctive.

Where does that work ethic come from?

“I’ve been playing this sport and sports in general for a long time now,” he said. “And outside of sports, I’ve worked on a farm out in very, very hot conditions in Alabama. So it’s a work ethic that’s been instilled from my parents and from everyone that I’ve been around.

“And I look at everybody on the team here, you know, Jalen and Marcus (Epps) and all these guys, I mean, they’re workhorses and, you know, you want to match them. So I guess that’s where I get my motivation from.”

Two days before final cuts, Blankenship had a big game in the preseason finale against the Dolphins, playing 47 of 66 snaps – and 22 more on special teams – and after final cuts two days later, he found his name on the 53-man roster .

All the work had paid off in the biggest roster surprise of the year.

“I guess it was the preseason games, especially the final one, that really (got me noticed),” he said. “You know, I had to play a lot. Obviously, I was one of those guys who had to do special teams and defense because they were going to rest everyone else.

“But I felt like I had their attention when I just didn’t give up. I didn’t bat an eye at anything.”

Blankenship only played in one of the Eagles’ first seven games, but with special teams struggling he got a chance to contribute, and he gave those units a jolt with his tough, physical, disciplined play.

And when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson got hurt? Blankenship became a rarity – an undrafted rookie starter on a playoff-bound team. Even when CJGJ came back, Blankenship kept playing. He was too good not to. Jonathan Gannon kept Blankenship at safety in nickel, dropping Gardner-Johnson into the slot in place of the injured Avonte Maddox.

Incredibly, Blankenship – who wasn’t good enough to get drafted, wasn’t good enough to get a Combine invitational, wasn’t even good enough to get much of a signing bonus – finished the regular season rated 19th by Pro Football Focus out of 101 safeties who played at least 200 defensive snaps.

In the postseason, he’s up to fourth among 33 safeties who’ve played 50 snaps.

With Avonte Maddox back, Blankenship is no longer starting. But a week from Sunday, he’ll become only the second undrafted Eagles rookie to play a significant role in a Super Bowl.

Corey Clement was the first. You might have heard of him.

“It is very rare,” he said. “I just love this sport and it’s just another opportunity to play at a high level on a big stage. I can’t wait.

“There’s guys who play 15 years and don’t get this opportunity, and I’m an undrafted rookie about to play in my first Super Bowl. So it’s pretty cool.”

It’s also not really the time to reflect too much on how far he’s come. There’s a football game against the Chiefs to play.

“You know, it hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “It’s a fun ride and I don’t want to do anything to screw it up, but I’m enjoying it.

“I’m having fun, but I know that at the end of the day that we have a job to do and I don’t want to let any of these guys down.”