One of the biggest challenges in scouting is to not get bored with prospects. Too often, too many of us—even the best of us—are prone to overlook a known commodity in favor of a new name; someone who can offer an exciting new experience watching the tape or provide a fresh skill set for us to sink our teeth into. But by the time the process comes to a close and the draft comes, odds are that cooler heads will prevail and the prospect you’ve known and grown comfortable with all along ends up being someone you can appreciate all over again. It’s a natural part of the process, unfortunately. Especially when that process plays out over multiple seasons. Middle Tennessee State’s Reed Blankenship is just the latest example. I first studied Blankenship’s game in June of 2020. And, needless to say, I was a fan. https://twitter.com/GrindingTheTape/status/1278111615762804744 Blankenship was an energizer bunny on the field, going and going and going relentlessly while also showcasing a fairly diverse skill set. He was new and exciting. But then something happened. The 2020 season came and went and Blankenship, who didn’t play up to his usual standards, decided to return to the school for another season in 2021. And while the decision paid off, the buzz hadn’t quite returned. Blankenship managed to set career highs in tackles (110), tackles for loss (10), passes defensed (8), fumble recoveries (3), and forced fumbles (2), but his momentum relative to some of the newer names as hybrid safeties and subpackage defenders appeared to be gone. Until now. I’m officially restarting the movement: You should formally want your team to draft Blankenship. I don’t care who your favorite team is or what their needs are. Blankenship will fit, I promise. Blankenship is one of the many 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls to be participating in this week’s East-West Shrine Bowl and Day 1 of practice was the formal reminder I needed to stop sleeping on one of my old flames and start to fully appreciate his skill set once again. There was speed and pursuit. There was physicality. There was communication. Getting to see Blankenship work up close and in person was the jolt I needed. This is a player who has the ability to be a core special teams player at a minimum. The one-time Bruce Feldman’s CFB Freak’s List member will have no problem with his height, weight, and speed combination to get down the field and serve as a kick coverage option. But beyond that, I see the versatility of a player needed to be a big-nickel defender or a traditional split-field safety taking a digestible half of the field. He’s taken reps from the slot (and did take B-level snaps during Saturday’s practice session, too). This isn’t to say the names that have risen to challenge for the top of this subcategory of safeties aren’t worthy. I certainly appreciate the skill set of Sterling Weatherford (Miami-OH) and Tycen Anderson (Toledo)—both of which will be in action this upcoming week in Mobile for the 2022 Senior Bowl. Both may be more athletically dynamic than Blankenship. But Blankenship is athletically different than most of the safeties here in Vegas. Watching him contrasted against his contemporaries in the individual sessions was a nice reminder of such. He’s good with transitions, agility, and burst. And coming off his most productive season in run support, Blankenship is showing the right blend of traits and production at the right time. Not when we needed to see it in order to keep him propped up on the tops of our minds over the last two years, but when we needed to see it in order to appreciate what he can bring to the next level.
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