The Philadelphia Eagles selected West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood with one of their fifth round picks (No. 153) in the 2016 NFL Draft. We've already profiled Smallwood, but I thought it would be useful to acquire an insider's insight as well. In order to learn more about the Eagles' new rusher, I reached out to SB Nation's West Virginia Mountaineers blog: The Smoking Musket. Jake Lantz (@NiteStare) was kind enough to answer questions about Smallwood.
1) What are his strengths?
"1. Vision - Wendell has shown the ability to see the hole before it opens up and the ability to diagnose a play as it is happening. Look no further than his 3rd-and-22 conversion in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. With WVU trailing and needing to pick up a large chunk of yardage, the Mountaineers opted to run off tackle with Wendell. Arizona State pursued the play well and cut off the hole. Wendell saw this and saw that Arizona State had overpursued. He cut back inside and picked up the yardage to convert for a first down.
2. Quickness through the hole - Wendell gets to his top gear very fast and can quickly get through the smallest holes.
3. Pass catching and ability to line up in the slot - As Eagles fans are probably aware, college offenses use up-tempo stacked plays to keep defenses honest. WVU is no different. WVU loves to "go fast" picking up a first down and immediately running another play. Wendell's versatility and ability to catch the football allowed the Mountaineers to line him up int he slot on one play, running back on another play, motion him out wide and then bring him in motion back in consecutive plays. He caught 68 passes in his three year career.
4. Football intelligence - This one I saw a lot in Tiki Barber during his final years when he was picking up blitzers without having to be told. Wendell is very similar and picked up pass protection quickly and is a willing blocker. He sees the linebacker or safety creeping up and often crossed the quarterback to pick up a free rusher."
2) What are his weaknesses?
"Wendell, despite showing 4.4 speed at the combine, never really displayed that speed in college. He was one or two steps from breaking plays many times but he was always caught. He also seems to reach top speed but doesn't have an extra gear. He isn't overly physical and isn't very elusive. He tends to get what is there and doesn't make many guys miss or run away from players."
3) What was the WVU reaction to Smallwood’s arrest in 2014? Were there ever any other off the field incidents with him? Are the character concerns legitimate or overblown?
"Honestly I was shocked. You hear "witness tampering" and think of mobsters threatening to make you "sleep with the fishes" and what not. Towards the end of his freshman year, Smallwood had established himself as the most reliable running back on the team and losing him meant uncertainty on offense. It turns out that Wendell, while he was in high school, had a friend who was accused/arrested for murder and Wendell chose to call the witness and tell him to recant his story. Outside of that phone call, Wendell never interacted with the witness and once he was arrested, he fully cooperated. Eventually his "friend" plead guilty to the charges and the tampering charges against Wendell were dropped.
There were never any other off-the-field incidents that I know of or heard of with Wendell. To me, it seems as something that a young high schooler may due while being found in a situation that he isn't able to fully comprehend the entire situation."
4) Pro Football Focus noted that Smallwood gained five or more yards before contact on 27% of his carries, which is the highest percentage from the 2016 draft class. To what extent is WVU’s offensive line to credit for Smallwood’s college success?
"The line was solid last year but it definitely wasn't the main reason for Smallwood's success. WVU used a two-back system with Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood. Shell has been very consistent in his college career averaging 4.4-4.5 yards per carry in each of his three seasons. While Rushel gained 4.5 yards, Wendell gained 6.4. Even when Wendell was nursing a sore ankle and other ailments that come with running 80-90 plays a game, he was still gaining large chunks of yardage. Wendell is such a quick player with good vision that the line didn't need to open a very big hole or hold it open long for him to get up and through the hole."
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
"I don't think Wendell is the prototypical 20-25 carry NFL back but I think if he is used because of his versatility you could see someone as a change of pace back put up 700 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving while totaling 8 touchdowns. I think his intelligence will see him make it through his rookie contract. I think Lamar Miller is a good comp."
Thanks again to Jake. Make sure to check out The Smoking Musket.