Considered one of the most versatile but underrated running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft Wendell Smallwood will look to make his impact at the next level. The back will either be a steal or as predicted a situation down player. He immediately saw playing time as a true freshman at West Virginia sharing the limelight with now NFL running back Charles Sims. He would see his playing time increase as a sophomore but still shared time with another current NFL running back in Dremius Smith. In Smallwood's junior campaign there was no doubt he was the star of the show. The Delaware native rushed for 1,519 yards and 9 touchdowns on his way out of Morgantown. Still, after leading the Big 12 conference in rushing and holding his own on the depth chart among current NFL talent, Smallwood is an underrated prospect. Many consider him to be a 5th round pick.
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Smallwood can be seen in the highlights below as a dual threat runner capable of taking heavy contact and beating defenders with speed. The running back surpassed 1,000 all purpose yards twice in his career.
Smallwood was often noted for having outstanding acceleration through the hole. Able to create at second level for more yards. Not afraid of contact but plays smart enough to know when it's time for the next play. Combination of build and feet give tacklers a hard time. Steady and consistent zone scheme runner. Adds a massive amount of value as a pass catcher out of the backfield or in the slot (career 68 rec, 618 rec yards). Twice surpassed a thousand all purpose yards in a season. Experienced aggressive blocker often meeting his target off the blitz or edge.
Has yet to show second gear after the acceleration through the hole. Too much deceleration upon attempts to shake tacklers. Questionable frame in terms of a 3 down NFL caliber back. Jump cuts and agility need to be improved on without loss of pace. Lacks electricity for size which could lead to more scoring opportunities. Efficient and reliable but not a home run threat on each touch.
The Denver Broncos are in good shape after both starting running backs C.J Anderson and Ronnie Hillman decided to join forces again. That is good...not GREAT shape. The two backs often struggled early on in the year before having enough of a late season surge to contribute to a Broncos Super Bowl run. Denver will likely have enough trust and optimism to pass on projected elite backs in the Draft like Ezekiel Elliot but still might dabble in the position group in the mid to late rounds. Gems such as Smallwood could still be available then. There in Denver he could be a nice change of pace back as the Broncos love so much and a special teams contributor at first or ultimately show enough promise in camp to be named a starter.
New England owns five 6th round picks. With a number like that one could almost guarantee a Wendell Smallwood selection if still available. The Patriots like the Broncos use their backs in number of ways. Smallwood could provide a change of pace but more than likely be more of passing option.The Patriots have had players like such in the past including Shane Vereen and Dion Lewis who is still currently with the program. The emphasis in New England is passing the ball and Smallwood could help them do just that.
- According to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, New England's "level of attention has been especially high" with Smallwood, who is considered one of the most sure-handed backs in the 2016 class and has reported visited teams tailored for that skill set.
Outlook and Projection
While not a top option at running back in the 2016 NFL Draft Wendell Smallwood still could hear his name called on day 2 of the draft through his outstanding combine and pro-day performances. The former West Virginia running back may not have elite speed or frame but is a reliable option to catch or run the ball. That alone should keep him around the league for a solid 5 years. His ability to be a starter day 1 or not depends solely on him.
Projection: 5th Round