While he may not be a true lead back in the neo-classical sense, Wendell Smallwood has been pleasantly effective for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wendell Smallwood is a classic case of a local man made good.
A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Smallwood was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school and appeared to be a long shot to ever develop into a legitimate NCAA starter, let alone an NFL player.
Sure, he received plenty of interest as a recruit, including over half a dozen scholarship offers to schools like Auburn, NC State, Temple, and… Hawaii (?), but none of these schools have historically been known as RB factories, Bo Jackson notwithstanding.
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But really, all Smallwood needed was a chance, like the one he was awarded by West Virginia, to show off his abilities, and after a fairly quiet freshman season, really carved out a nice niche for himself as one of the Big 12’s most dominant rushers.
While West Virginia has historically been famous for their offensive air-raid scheme under Dana Holgorsen, Smallwood helped to change that culture in a big way; leading the team, and division in rushing yards with 1,519 in route to an 8-5 record in 2015.
This junior campaign, featuring a staggering seven 100-plus yard performances, helped to vault Smallwood from an unremarkable committee back into a legitimate NFL prospect with a draftable grade.
Sure, could Smallwood have potentially bolstered his draft status even more with another thousand-yard season as a senior, but he also could have taken a step back and regressed to the mean, all but ending his professional career before it had even begun.
No, Smallwood opted to test his mettle at the games highest level, and in doing so, fell into a situation that many players only dream of.
Oh, what a feeling that must have been.
From there, Smallwood stepped into an almost immediate role with the Eagles, becoming a solid addition to Duce Staley‘s running backs rotation for the better part of three seasons.
Has he ever become a true lead back in the neo-classical sense? No, and he probably never will, but in 2018, Smallwood finished out the season with the second most rushing yards on the Eagles and the most receiving yards of any running back on the roster. Smallwood also finished second on the team with a 4.2 yards per carry average, the second-best mark on the team.
No matter how you slice it, that’s impressive, even for a team that had some of the worst running back production of a playoff team in recent memory.
While the Eagles will in all likelihood look to bolster their backfield considerably going into the 2019 NFL calendar year, be it through the draft, free agency, or a combination of both, Smallwood has all but carved out his niche with the team in a way that few initially imagined when he was selected in the fifth round. And who knows, maybe he’ll earn a new contract of his own, and continue to hone his craft a stone’s throw away from his hometown.