The former three-star recruit and 24th-ranked all-purpose running back in the 2012 class waited his turn at West Virginia, quietly biding his time as upperclassmen shouldered the load. By the time his junior season, 2015, rolled around, he was more than ready to prove why he was one of college football's best-kept secrets.
“Wendell Smallwood has got a chance to be a special player,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said in April 2015. “You will see him doing a whole bunch of stuff out here today. He looks just like Charles Sims did two years ago.”
Holgorsen was right. Smallwood ran wild as junior, registering eight games with at least 110 rushing yards (despite never having more than 25 carries in a game) on his way to a 1,500-yard season. His yards-per-carry average of 6.4 ranked fifth among all FBS players with at least 220 carries and he only once averaged less than five yards per tote in a game (4.8).
He mostly sat off the NFL radar — or far down it — because of a July 2014 arrest and modest workload prior to 2015. Still, Smallwood left a year early and was selected by the Eagles in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, four spots behind eventual Giants' starter Paul Perkins and three spots behind eventual Bears' starter Jordan Howard. He had 312 yards on 77 carries as a rookie.
"[Howard] took advantage of the same spot, the same opportunity that I have now," Smallwood said this week. "Hopefully, I can do the same thing and take advantage."
Though Smallwood still sits behind LeGarrette Blount of the Eagles' depth chart, the season-ending injury to Darren Sproles has opened the door for a larger role. And like he did in 2015 at West Virginia, he's trying to proven he can be a dynamic workhorse.
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