If Reed Blankenship wants a great example of how to make it in the NFL as an undrafted player, he just needs to look to the other end of the locker room.
That’s where he’ll find T.J. Edwards.
The Eagles signed Blankenship as an undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee this offseason and as he gets set to make his first NFL start this weekend, we enlisted the help of one of the Eagles’ greatest UDFA success stories to get him some advice.
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“Honestly, I think the mindset doesn’t change,” Edwards said. “You just have to make the most out of your opportunities and just have fun with it, enjoy it. I know how hard [Blankenship] works, I know how hard everyone in here works. It’s just going out there an executing at a high level. Just doing all the things you’re used to doing playing football and realizing that everything else might be elevated but it’s just football. [Blankenship is] here for a reason and he showed it.”
Edwards, 26, signed with the Eagles after going undrafted in the 2019 draft. Edwards was very good at Wisconsin but didn’t test particularly well, which hurt his draft stock. Edwards heard for years about his slow 40 time and that’s what we’re hearing about Blankenship now.
While Edwards started four games as a rookie, he was mostly a special teamer and had to work his way into the lineup. In his first three seasons, Edwards started 30 games and during last year earned a one-year extension to come back in 2022.
This season, Edwards is playing the best football of his life. He has started all 11 games, had 103 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 QB hits, 7 tackles for loss. He even has the green communications dot on his helmet, given to him by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. He’s well on his way to earning the first big contract of his career.
Even though they play different positions, Edwards is a role model for Blankenship.
“Absolutely,” Blankenship said this week. “Guys that have been in that situation and have that chip on their shoulder, they’re some of the tougher guys that can make it in the league. It’s just their want-to. They’re passionate about the game. I’m very passionate about the game. I love football. Being able to play again, it makes you feel like you’re a kid so I’m going to give it all I got until they tell me to stop.”
Edwards said he’s happy to embrace that role as someone for younger undrafted players to look up to. Early in Edwards’ career, that guy for him was Rodney McLeod. McLeod, 32, left the Eagles as a free agent this offseason and is now with the Colts, but he’s in Year 11 after going undrafted out of Virginia back in 2012.
As much as Edwards thinks it’s a clean slate once you’re in the league, it was helpful for him to look at a guy like McLeod and see the type of long career he wanted for himself.
That’s how Blankenship looks at Edwards now.
Blankenship played well in his first real action on defense last Sunday night after starter C.J. Gardner-Johnson was knocked out of the game by an injury we later found out was a lacerated kidney. With Gardner-Johnson out for at least a few weeks, Blankenship will now get the opportunity to step in as a starter.
By all accounts, Blankenship is a hard-worker, a smart player and someone who played a ton of high-level football in college. He’s the safety version of Edwards.
While Edwards has played well throughout his career, the “undrafted” label still follows him. That doesn’t bother him too much because he thinks of it as a label given to him by outsiders. He trusts that it doesn’t matter to the guys inside the locker room.
But having all 32 teams pass on you — 254 names called in 2019 and 262 names in 2022 — does offer some inspiration. It leaves undrafted players with a proverbial chip on their shoulders.
“It does. You’ve got something to prove every single day,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t ever stop. Someone told me a long time ago that you’re renting your locker so you gotta show up every day and work and show why you’re here, prove why you’re here. That’s definitely a mindset that I have and I see some of those things in him.”
After his big interception on Sunday off Aaron Rodgers, Blankenship said his phone had a ton of notifications. Everyone in his small town in Alabama wanted to tell him how proud they were. And the football Reed snagged off Rodgers’ hand? That’s going back home to his dad.
But all those well wishes and all the praise had to be short-lived. Blankenship has a lot to work on and he knows that feeling and the title of being undrafted isn’t going way.
“Oh absolutely. It’ll never go away,” Blankenship said. “I’m going to always stay humble about this. There’s always stuff to be fixed. You’re always going to make mistakes, you’re always going to learn from mistakes. I’m going to continue to have that chip on my shoulder.”
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