Before we truly get into the depths of the off-season, it’s time to review the 2022 draft class. I won’t review anyone unless they played enough snaps (so this will be a very short series!). This is the last player I’m going to review, but I think he is the most interesting to talk about Reed Blankenship surprised everyone with his play last year, so let’s look at what he did and what summarize what I think about him moving forward.
Hands up - who had Reed Blankenship as Pro Football Focus’ 10th-best safety this year then? The numbers are strong in pretty much every category, albeit a very small sample size of course. The really interesting thing is the number of deep snaps Blankenship played because a lot of the safeties the Eagles have added this offseason excel in the box or in the slot. This gives him a fantastic chance of playing a lot of snaps this year, even under a new defensive coordinator.
+ He showed some outstanding reps as a run defender, where he came flying downhill to make a play on the ball carrier. This is vital for a split-safety defense.
#9 Blankenship stood out as a run defender too. The Eagles asked him to come into the box a lot and he had some impressive reps. The Eagles run defense was really good again and except for a couple of runs they shut the Giants down. pic.twitter.com/9pCMVJs6fp— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 24, 2023
#10 Linval Joseph has been a great signing. Even when he's doubled he anchors so well. Great rep by Cox too and Blankenship comes flying down to make a play on Barkley. Blankenship reads the game really well and he was a fantastic draft pick. pic.twitter.com/KwZRwgPAxb— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 24, 2023
+ His instincts looked really strong. He didn’t seem phased by play-fakes or misdirections and always seemed near the ball.
#11 And let's end with Reed Blankenship because he barely played but his instincts and aggressiveness are just awesome to watch. He's probably going to have a Marcus Epps career trajectory and will be a fine starter in the future. pic.twitter.com/gAaLOQ5gPj— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 31, 2023
+ He showed good tackling technique and his athletic range looked really good at times. He’s got a really good build for a safety.
Except for the long TD which wasn't really his fault anyway, Blankenship had some excellent reps! Love his quickness and diagnosis of this run play and Aaron Jones is not an easy open field tackle. Obviously not good that CGJ is injured but I am excited to see Blankenship play. pic.twitter.com/rWvYCE8AiJ— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 30, 2022
This is beautiful. 5 man front, Reddick and Sweat both drop into coverage & do a good job. Maddox rotates back into safety which enables Blankenship to blitz, he bursts past the guard and chases Daniel Jones down for a short gain. The communication in the secondary is so so good. pic.twitter.com/3pOCTKqb9l— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) December 14, 2022
+ He showed such a good understanding of the Eagles’ defense for a rookie. Playing safety in this defense is not easy and it’s a huge credit to Blankenship that he played so well as a rookie.
This is a fantastic disguise. I love this play. Epps travelling with the WR signals single-high man coverage. It's actually 2-high and Blankenship reads it perfectly. Rodgers does not expect Blankenship to be here and he picks it off. What a fun play! pic.twitter.com/5V0kXlxPxP— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 30, 2022
Reed Blankenship had a good debut too I talk about this secondary all the time but the coaches have done such a good job at making players better in the secondary time and time again. He reads this play perfectly and he looks very comfortable in this defense already. pic.twitter.com/uNcslBA7Wb— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) December 6, 2022
#4 Eagles quads coverage was really good and I thought Blankenship had an excellent game. He makes a nice play on the ball here. Sweat fights through a chip from the TE and nearly gets the ball out here too. pic.twitter.com/7N8PIrctjo— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 24, 2023
#6 Giants tested the Eagles with these 4 strong looks with late motion to trips. This is outstanding zone match. Watch TJ communicate the 4 strong at the snap. Bradberry in MEG coverage to the lone WR. Blankenship plays TRIX & watches the crosser from the strong side. Good stuff! pic.twitter.com/eyP6h63Chj— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) January 11, 2023
+ I love watching him play. He was one of my favorite stories of last year and his combination of instincts, size, and range is really fun to watch.
- His athleticism and top-end speed, especially in space and when not moving in a straight line, feels pretty average at best.
Final negative... This is almost certainly a mistake/miscommunication. There's no way the Eagles should be playing single-high man coverage with Scott covering the RB and Epps covering the slot WR. Just shouldn't happen, ever. A hugely costly mistake too. This can't happen. pic.twitter.com/4thdGOqKf5— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) November 30, 2022
- I don’t know if he has the versatility and cover skills to play any man coverage from the slot. I think he might be a deep zone defender only and I’m not fully sold on his coverage skills.
As someone who was very impressed with Blankenship, I thought I would go back and read some scouting reports on him to try and find out why he went undrafted. This is the summary from Bleacher Report’s scouting profile:
Blankenship plays with physical hands when taking on blocks. At times he does struggle to disengage, but he plays his leverage and sets the edge.Though he has shown to run through ball carriers when playing in the box, when tackling, he can get overextended and forced to dive at better athletes, leading to missed tackles.
Ultimately, Blankenship was a successful player at Middle Tennessee State, where he left as the leading tackler in school history. A player with good movement skills, he may be tapped out with his athletic ability. He’s a consistent player who is draftable with backup potential.
And here is the summary from NFL.com:
Versatile safety with adequate size and good athleticism. Blankenship is a team leader who is aggressive and heavily experienced in a defense that required his versatility. He’s ready and willing in run support but has a problem with tackle angles that causes too many misses from a variety of locations around the field. He’s athletic and his route recognition is good when he’s playing from up top; however, he lacks top-end speed to stay with downfield assignments. He will need to shine on special teams to improve his chances of making it in the league.
Both of those reports feel pretty fair actually. They both mention his biggest issue is a lack of top-end speed and missed tackles. We didn’t really see that jump out as a huge issue last year. However, I have to remind myself constantly about this, the sample size is very small. Not only is the sample size small, but it’s also important to remember he’s going to be playing in a new defense this year under a new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. As much as I believe in Blankenship, I probably shouldn’t be totally shocked if he does have a slightly underwhelming season.
But... I think Blankenship is going to have a good season and I feel pretty confident that he’ll be a starter despite what I said above. I think he’s the best deep safety the Eagles have and I expect him to start with Terrell Edmunds who is better closer to the line of scrimmage. I expect Sydney Brown to rotate in too but he’s also better closer to the line of scrimmage.
Reed Blankenship is unlikely to be an elite safety and he fell in the draft because of concerns over his speed and tackling. But he showed a really strong understanding of the defense last year and Jonathan Gannon asks a lot out of his safeties. That defense is not easy to play and for a rookie, Blankenship was really impressive. He is obviously smart, and instinctive and it’s pretty incredible how well he played for a UDFA. Safety is arguably the one position (outside of quarterback) where athleticism is slightly overrated and Blakenship showed really good instincts and route recognition. I wouldn’t be surprised if his career arc follows someone like Marcus Epps who was also a late-round pick that I really liked.
The Eagles added a lot of safeties this offseason, and it is easy to predict Blankenship as the odd one out when you look at the profiles of the players they added but, I’m predicting a good season for Blankenship.