Eagles Scouting Report: Wendell Smallwood

May 13, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) hands off to running back Wendell Smallwood (28) during rookie minicamp at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) hands off to running back Wendell Smallwood (28) during rookie minicamp at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

My favorite part of the scouting process is upon us. The Philadelphia Eagles are mere days away from OTAs, and with the Draft now a thing of the past, scouting players is a painless exercise. Combing through droves of players, identifying fits, and then formulating thoughts on each one is an onerous and sometimes frustrating pre-draft process; however, retroactively reviewing film –considering the prospects are already onboard– is a much simpler task. Last week, I went back to the film and put down some thoughts on Carson Wentz, which may or may not be amended throughout the summer. Today, I’ll be taking a look at 5th round selection, Wendell Smallwood: the embattled back from WVU.

Smallwood has been portrayed as a diminutive back, and although he is relatively well put-together at 5’10” 208lbs, he ranks in just the 27th and 31st percentiles for height and weight respectively (according to Mockdraftable.com’s measurables database, which accumulates data on all combine participants dating back to 1999).

In 2015, Smallwood established himself as the Mountaineers’ go-to back, compiling 1,519 yards and 9 TDs on the ground at a clip of 6.4 yards per carry, while converting 26 receptions into an additional 160 yards through the air. When given volume in passing situations, Smallwood has proven to be productive pass-catching option, as he doubled his 2015 receiving output in 2014 (when he was entrenched in a timeshare with Dreamius Smith and handled the majority of pass-catching duties). It’s worth noting that Smallwood also has a background as a kick returner, handling some return responsibilities in his freshman season –albeit with mixed results.

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As previously mentioned, Smallwood is a versatile piece. He has the ability to lineup as a receiver both in the backfield and out in the slot. Fran Duffy has posited that the Eagles might plan to use Smallwood similarly to how Doug Pederson and Andy Reid deployed De’Anthony Thomas in Kansas City, and while Smallwood is undeniably less dynamic than Thomas, I can see the fit. Smallwood has excellent acceleration, making him a weapon on jet-sweeps, screens, and other plays designed to get him the ball in space. People get a bit hung-up on his speed, but it’s somewhat mitigated by his ability to quickly gear up. What’s more, he’s a natural pass catcher who, although runs somewhat deliberate routes, plucks the ball effortlessly out of the air, and can adjust to awkwardly thrown passes. Many young backs have issues catching the football, being a bit too agressive in attacking the ball and allowing it to bounce off their hands. Smallwood has no such issues, demonstrating the ability to consistently cushion the ball and bring it into his body while keeping his eyes upfield and himself in attack-mode.

One area that’s commonly identified as a major factor in determining a young back’s early contributions is his ability to pass protect. While Smallwood needs to better assert himself as a blocker, and needs polish in his technique, he is very much assignment sound: a rarity in a 1st-year player, and likely contributing factor in his designation as a target for a west coast system. In fact, Smallwood has been lauded by coaches for his ability to diagnose plays, namely blitzes, in the backfield. Some have gone as far to remark that he’s even corrected calls during his time at WVU. The film supports the assertion that Smallwood is a smart kid, as he is rarely (if ever) caught out of place in pass-pro.

That intelligence effectively carries over into his game as a runner, as Smallwood understands how his blocks form, and shows timing, patience, and vision in hitting and exploiting holes. As previously mentioned, Smallwood is an exceptional straight-line accelerator. Un-impeded, Smallwood rapidly gets up to speed, needing little more than a step or two to be full tilt. He isn’t a blazer, but as evidenced by his 4.47 forty-time and his formidable agility scores (82nd percentile in the 3-cone), he possesses more than adequate speed to be successful at the next level.

Smallwood’s running-style is rather interesting. For a smaller back, he is incredibly scrappy. He’s not exceptionally strong or fast, but he keeps his legs churning through contact and consistently falls forward to maximize every touch. Moreover, his ability to accelerates often allows him to engage tacklers at a higher rate of speed and subsequently gain leverage. As his hard-nosed style might imply, Smallwood is a no-nonsense runner, quickly processing and making decisions, applying one cut, and getting upfield.


Smallwood is a solid, well-rounded back, but lacks a dynamic element to his game. Sure he gets up to speed quickly, but he doesn’t possess the extra gear that other prospects due, nor is he very strong or explosive. Some of this is a natural deficiency, while I feel as though some of it can be attributed to his upward running-style. Don’t expect Smallwood to ever become Marshawn Lynch, but if he could keep himself from changing levels and standing up in the tackle-box, he’d certainly make a smaller target and be able to gain better leverage on his runs. Moreover, I feel it mitigates his burst given that he’s not a natural burner to begin with.

In addition to issues with pad-height, Smallwood isn’t a particularly gifted lateral runner. Part of the reason he has to be so deliberate in hitting the hole is because he struggles to create at the line. While I feel the word “creator” gets abused and is somewhat overvalued in many aspects of prospect evaluations, it is in some ways an indicator of a player’s ceiling/playmaking ability, and Smallwood isn’t particularly impressive in this regard either. Unlike a LeSean McCoy, a Darren Sproles, or even a Paul Perkins, Smallwood isn’t sharp/explosive in and out of his breaks. He can make defenders miss, but he won’t do it at the level or relative consistency that the aforementioned 3 will. Even in shuffling behind the line, Smallwood isn’t very quick to change direction and, in turn, hit the hole. This can sometimes allow defenders into the backfield, at which point Smallwood lacks the elusiveness to create positive yardage. Smallwood is at his best when his offensive line is mashing and controlling the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis (I know, who isn’t, but still, it allows him to utilize his acceleration).

Though the angle has been beaten to death, Smallwood’s maturity bears mentioning, as his Twitter fiasco and his being charged of intimidating a witness in a murder case are black marks against his reputation. Smallwood was of course just a teenager at the time of the incidents in question, and didn’t have any issues (that I know of) while at WVU. His coaches speak relatively well of him, so I don’t expect him to cause many issues in Philadelphia. Howie Roseman has let it be known that the players with character concerns will be on thin ice, and I’d expect Smallwood to be cognizant of his warning.

Bottom Line

Wendell Smallwood is a solid back. I like him quite a bit going forward despite his apparent limitations. He’s the kind of back that will always get what there, and still has some big-play ability (and subsequent upside). Given his skill-set, I’d expect Smallwood to quickly challenge for a part-time role, likely in more exotic packages and on 3rd down. His presence will hopefully give the coaching staff some flexibility in determining the future of the current stable of backs. Smallwood could be a fixture for years to come as a capable spot-starter, change-of-pace option, gadget player, and pass-protector. Expect the Eagles to dive into next year’s running back class, which is shaping up to be a legendary group, despite Smallwood’s presence.