If you had told Hank Baskett three years ago that he was to be a future NFL starting wide receiver, he probably would have been surprised. But if you had told him that he was going to be a No. 1, he might just have told you that you were out of your mind.
It's players like Baskett, who every year go undrafted—wide receivers like Shaheer McBride and Brandon "Bam" Childress, among others—that spend their short careers on the training squad or as backups.
But Hank Baskett was different.
Originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings in 2006, the Eagles showed interest in him by trading their 2003 third-round draft pick Bill McMullen to Minnesota for a chance to take a look at the extraordinary young talent.
Although Baskett did not make the draft because of his perceived lack of speed, his 6'4" frame and New Mexico high school record 7'0" high jump intrigued the Eagles. Since then, he has been arguably the Eagles' most physically imposing wide receiver.
His unimpressive college career, however, would not tell the story of his future NFL success.
Baskett's four years at the University of New Mexico resulted in just one standout season, coming in 2005. As a senior, Baskett posted 67 receptions for 1,071 yards and nine touchdowns, earning All-Mountain West Conference honors.
Baskett took that momentum with him to the NFL, it seemed.
Baskett's real chance at training camp came with the departure of former Eagles' wide receiver Todd Pinkston. Baskett showcased his talent, catching nearly everything that was thrown to him and soon becoming one of McNabb's favorite targets. He went on to post giant numbers during the preseason, building the hype already surrounding him.
Come regular season, however, and it was back to the bench for Baskett. Despite Head Coach Andy Reid's unsavory history of not playing rookies, Baskett did manage to contribute as a third wide receiver.
Although most Eagles fans were disappointed, Baskett did show that he was meant to be playing at the pro level and cemented in his role as an Eagle for years to come.
He finished the season strong, compiling 22 receptions for 464 yards (21.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns—a record for Eagles' rookies. He also had two 100-yard games against the Cowboys and the Falcons, and was awarded Rookie of the Week honors in both instances. Both his touchdown receptions in those games were of 85 yards or more, becoming just the second rookie in NFL history to have two or more such receptions in the same season.
His second NFL campaign was a disappointment, however. His offensive playing time largely diminished due to new wideout Kevin Curtis's presence, he also saw his YPA average drop down to a dismal 8.9 yards. Curtis went on to have a record season, posting 77 receptions for 1,110 yards.
Additionally, barely midway through the season Hank Baskett's role as third receiver was unofficially taken over by fourth-round draft pick Jason Avant. What looked like the feel good story of 2006 was becoming a disaster of a year for Baskett in 2007.
However, with the arrival of 2008 training camp, Hank Baskett was back at it, catching balls consistently and showing great ability to get downfield. But come preseason, he got barely no touches, as was expected with new arrival DeSean Jackson.
Things were going from bad to worse. Hank Baskett no longer seemed to have a place on the team, and all the new arrivals seemed to spell his inevitable exit. Everything pointed to the Eagles no longer needing him.
But Baskett wasn't done yet.
By the third preseason game, injuries had forced the Eagles' top two receivers out of commission. Reggie Brown had a strained hamstring, and Kevin Curtis had a sports hernia that looked to keep him out until the second half of the 2008 season.
The news, delivered on a nondescript Wednesday morning, came as a shock to everyone.
"We're going to mix it up with Hank (Baskett) and Greg (Lewis) over there," Andy Reid stated at his daily press conference. "You know, in place of Kevin."
It was official. Baskett, listed on the Eagles' depth chart as their new No. 1, had made the long climb from undrafted to backup to starter. And now he was the Eagles' starting wide receiver, the first guy, the offense's go-to receiver.
It has been an unlikely climb for the unlikeliest of players.