INDIANAPOLIS — You want a massive chip on your shoulder? Try making it in the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent.
Most college prospects have aspirations of being selected somewhere by the time the seventh round of each year's NFL Draft comes and goes, but the reality is there are only so many spots to go around.
Yet, each year, about 500 undrafted players across the league overcome the odds to make their respective teams' Week 1 rosters.
To do it as a rookie, without the prestige of being a draft pick, is downright impressive, however.
For the Indianapolis Colts, these undrafted rookie free agent success stories are seemingly an annual tradition.
In fact, heading into this year, the Colts had kept at least one undrafted rookie on their Week 1 roster for 21 straight seasons, the longest such active streak in the NFL.
And on Saturday, that streak officially reached 22 years, as Rodrigo Blankenship, who went undrafted this year after a decorated career at Georgia, officially won the team's kicking battle over Chase McLaughlin, who was waived during final cuts (check out the full Colts initial 2020 53-man roster by clicking here).
It was actually the Colts' first kicking battle since 1998 (Mike Vanderjagt's first season with the team), while Blankenship will be Indy's first new Week 1 kicker since 2005 (Adam Vinatieri's first year with the Colts was 2006).
Blankenship last year wrapped up one of the greatest kicking careers in SEC history. He appeared in 56 games at Georgia (2016-19), and converted 80-of-97 (82.5 percent) field goals and all 200 of his extra-point attempts. His 440 total points scored ranks second in SEC history, while his career field goal percentage ranks first in Georgia history.
In 2019, Blankenship was named the Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's top placekicker, First Team All-America by USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Walter Camp, Pro Football Focus and First Team All-SEC after appearing in 14 games and converting 27-of-33 field goals (81.8 percent) and 46-of-46 PATs for 127 total points, earning SEC Special Teams Player of the Week six times.
Blankenship certainly had some buzz heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, but he did not end up getting selected. He said he chose to sign with the Colts over several other suitors as an undrafted free agent because of the relationship he had already built with special teams coaches Bubba Ventrone and Franky Ross.
Blankenship also overcame the odds stacked against every rookie free agent in this year's class; the COVID-19 pandemic not only led to the cancelation of every preseason game, but also the on-field portion of every team's offseason workout program.
"Ultimately, I just felt like this was the best place for me when the draft was over," Blankenship told reporters on Aug. 19. "I just felt like this was going to be the best situation, the best spot for me. I know that the Colts have had a reputation for having a lot of success with specialist, especially the kicker position. Thinking recently about Vinatieri being arguably the best of all-time, I think there has definitely been a precedent established for having quality specialists here in Indy.
"You obviously have to walk in and come right into kind of the heat of battle, walk into a competition, but that's how it was going to be anywhere that I decided to go," Blankenship said. "I just felt like this was an incredible organization with a lot of history and a lot of tradition and precedent established. After going through that process I just felt really comfortable with Coach Bubba and Coach Franky and just felt like it was going to be a really good fit for me here."
Blankenship is currently one of five undrafted players who have made the Colts' initial 53-man roster heading into the 2020 season; others include tight end Jack Doyle, cornerback Kenny Moore II, punter Rigoberto Sanchez and safety George Odum.
Since 1999, the Colts have had a total of 57 undrafted rookies make their Week 1 roster — including at least one each year, the longest active streak in the NFL — an average of more than two per season:
» 1999: Chukie Nwokorie, DE; Terrence Wilkins, WR
» 2000: Ben Gilbert, G; Kevin McDougal, Brandon Miller, DT; RB; Justin Snow, LS/TE; Payton Williams, CB
» 2001: Jermaine Hampton, DB; Wes Ours, RB; Dominic Rhodes, RB
» 2002: Raheem Brock, DE; Justin Seaverms, LB; Ricky Williams, RB
» 2003: Gary Brackett, LB; Anthony Floyd, DB; Aaron Moorehead, WR; Brad Pyatt, WR
» 2004: Josh Thomas, DE
» 2005: Darrell Reid, DT; Matt Ulrich, G
» 2006: De De Dorsey, RB; Ryan LaCasse, DE
» 2007: Melvin Bullitt, S; Ramon Guzman, LB; Ed Johnson, DT
» 2008: Eric Foster, DT; Curtis Johnson, DE; Jordan Senn, LB
» 2009: Cody Glenn, LB; Ramon Humber, LB; Jacob Lacey, DB
» 2010: Brandon King, DB; Jeff Linkenbach, T
» 2011: Darren Evans, RB; Joe Lefeged, DB; Mike McNeill, TE; Adrian Moten, LB
» 2012: Dominique Jones, TE
» 2013: Jack Doyle, TE
» 2014: Jonotthan Harrison, C; Henoc Muamba, LB; Loucheiz Purifoy, CB; Zurlon Tipton, RB
» 2015: T.Y. McGill, DT; Tyler Varga, RB
» 2016: Matthias Farley, S; Josh Ferguson, RB; Curt Maggitt, LB; Chester Rogers, WR
» 2017: Deyshawn Bond, C; Darrell Daniels, TE; Kenny Moore II, CB; Rigoberto Sanchez, P
» 2018: Skai Moore, LB; George Odum, S
» 2019: Hale Hentges, TE
» 2020: Rodrigo Blankenship, K