Perhaps the most talented running back the Iowa Hawkeyes have had in years, Akrum Wadley patiently waited his turn to become the featured back. Stuck behind the likes of Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels his first two seasons in Iowa City, Wadley showed he was worth the wait. Once he finally got his shot to be the focal point of the Hawkeyes backfield in 2016, Wadley took the reins and positioned himself as one of the top backs coming into 2017.
Though not thought of as highly as the likes of Saquan Barkley, Darius Guice, or Kalen Ballage, Wadley is an exceptional talent in his own right. He has reportedly come into camp with some added muscle, addressing one of the biggest knocks on him coming into his senior season. Just how well does Wadley stack up against the other running backs in what looks to be a stacked class? That’s what I’m here to tell you.
If you read my first report on Iowa State’s Allen Lazard, you may notice that I’ve done things a little differently this time around with regards to my evaluation. I wasn’t happy with the results I was getting with my previous scale, so I’ve decided to shake things up a bit. For this report, I’ve adopted a scale similar to the 20/80 method they use for baseball scouting, and so far I’m a lot more content with this scale. So, without further ado, let’s check out Akrum Wadley.
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley is the most elusive returning back from a season ago.
Can he even increase his elusive rating in 2017? pic.twitter.com/qJQ0wEOjV8
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) July 10, 2017
Part of growing and developing as a scout is acknowledging your weaknesses so you can attempt to get better in those areas. I’ll be the first to admit that evaluating a running back’s vision, or any position for that matter, is a weak point for me. It’s hard for me to say what the running back is or isn’t seeing out there. Football isn’t necessarily the fluid game that basketball is and it’s not feasible to think that any position — running back, quarterback, etc. — can see everything all the time.
That being said, it’s not a part of the evaluation process that can be skipped. When I look at the tape on Wadley, I see a running back with good, but not great, vision. When he’s out in the open field, his vision is great. Which should go without saying, it’s easier to see when there’s less obstructing your vision. At the initial point of attack, Wadley is solid. He finds the opening more often than not, and almost always squirts through for a positive gain.
Where I downgrade Wadley a touch is that it feels like he’s a little too eager to bounce things outside. He looks to always be trying to use his athleticism to hit the edge and turn a short gain into a home run. That works at the collegiate level, but that’s not where his bread is going to be buttered in the NFL. He’s shifty, but he’s not Barry Sanders. He’s going to need to learn to “trust the process” to steal a phrase, and be happy with the short-yardage gains that wear down a defense.
Vision Grade: 5
Quickness is, by far, the strongest component to Akrum Wadley’s game. He’s got good vision. He has acceptable power in his running style. He has good, but not great speed. But he is very, very slippery. His agility in the open field is sometimes bordering on the spectacular. There’s been a lot of talk in Twitter circles about whether or not Wadley has good hips. I don’t care about that, honestly. I care about what I see on the tape, and what I see is a back that can juke just about anyone out of their jockstrap.
In the run-heavy Big Ten conference, Wadley is one of the most adept at his position at making moves in the open field to give himself more yardage. He’s fast, but he doesn’t necessarily have breakaway speed. Where he “earns his paycheck”, so to speak, is being about to make quick movements and get would-be tacklers off their spot just long enough for him to get by. Wadley also has a good spin move, but his lateral quickness is the star of the show.
It’s going to be particularly interesting this coming season to see how much of Wadley’s quickness is lost due to the added weight he’s carrying. He arrived in Iowa City in the 160 range, and has thus-far managed to retain his quickness as he’s bulked up to around 190. Now that he’s reportedly eclipsed the 200 pound mark, if he is still just as shifty, that’s a huge boon to his draft stock.
Quickness Grade: 6
We go from the strongest facet of Wadley’s game to the weakest one, holding on to the ball. Fumbling has been a problem that has plagued Wadley’s Hawkeye career, with six fumbles in his career on less than 300 total carries. That’s not a ratio that’s going to excite scouts at the next level. Projecting that number across a 16-game schedule, that number is going to put him in line with the league leaders in fumbles.
The good news for Wadley in this regard is two-fold. First, the league leaders in fumbles for the 2016 NFL season were Ezekiel Elliott, Chris Ivory, and David Johnson. You can make a strong argument that two of those three were the best running backs in the league last season, so the fumbles aren’t as much a stumbling block.
The other positive outlook is that, of all the traits pro scouts look at, ball security is the one most easily worked on. Adrian Peterson had a reputation as a fumbler coming into the NFL, and struggled with fumbles in the early stages of his career racking up 19 fumbles in his first three seasons. Later on, after much work, Peterson was able to overcome and develop into a sure-handed star.
Ball Security Grade: 4
Speed & Acceleration
While quickness is the bread and butter of Wadley’s game, his speed and acceleration should not be overlooked. As I mentioned, he doesn’t have breakaway speed to consistently be a threat from anywhere on the field, but let’s be real, very few players do. Wadley’s speed is solid for a running back of his size, and there aren’t any glaring issues with his acceleration, either.
When Wadley sees the hole, he gets there quickly and can motor through the hole to pick up yardage. He’s got enough speed to bounce a run outside around the edge, though he seems to rely on that skill a little too often. There were several runs I saw that Wadley attempted to break the play to the outside when he could have turned upfield and made a positive play out of it. He’s got the speed to turn the edge in the college game, but it’s not going to work at the professional level. He’s going to be outmatched by linebackers, and even some defensive ends, and will need to trust that those 2 and 3-yard gains early will help him bust 10-15 yard gains late in the game.
Speed & Acceleration Grade: 5
Running the ball is great, and it’s the primary responsibility of any running back. But in today’s NFL, you can’t be a one-trick pony and expect to see significant playing time. To be a dependable running back in the NFL today, you have to be more than a great ball carrier. You need to give your team something on all three downs. Whether that means you’re an effective pass catcher out of the backfield, can line up outside and play some receiver, or are a devastating blocker, you have to be versatile.
Akrum Wadley shines in this facet of the game. In addition to being a great running back for the Hawkeyes, he’s also one of their leading pass catchers. Wadley was a great emergency valve for C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeyes last season, and he has soft hands that will make him an asset at the next level.
Where Wadley struggles a bit, and why he doesn’t get a perfect score on this trait, is in his blocking responsibilities. Wadley doesn’t necessarily blow his blocking assignments, so I can’t penalize him too harshly, but it’s not pretty. If Wadley can get into the weight room and put on a bit of muscle, it should not only improve his durability concerns, but also his blocking abilities.
Versatility Grade: 6
Speaking of versatility, this is another aspect where I have to downgrade Wadley not for his on-field performance, but more for projection reasons. Depending on whose listing you trust, Wadley is somewhere between 185 and 191 pounds. That’s not terrible size for a running back, but I would like to see him get over that 200 pound mark.
There has been talk coming out of the Hawkeyes camp this spring that Wadley has put on some weight in the offseason. Whether or not he actually has, and if he keeps it on, remains to be seen. If he is, in fact, over the 200 pound mark, I’ll be really interested to see how that impacts Wadley’s excellent speed, acceleration, and quickness. If he can support the added weight and not lose any in those traits, then the sky’s the limit for Wadley’s potential.
Durability Grade: 6
I’m incredibly excited to see what Akrum Wadley brings to the table in his final season with the Hawkeyes. Especially given the revelation that he’s put on weight and has surpassed 200 pounds. If he’s able to maintain the traits that make him special with the added weight, he has the potential to be talked about in the same breath as the top backs in the 2018 NFL Draft class. He’s not there as of this moment, but a lot can change over the course of a season.
If the NFL Draft were today, Wadley would likely come in as my fourth-rated player at the position, behind Barkley, Guice, and Ballage. He’ll get a run for his money from the likes of Nick Chubb — if healthy — Royce Freeman, Bo Scarborough, and a handful of others, but Wadley is just a hair above those guys for me. And is solidly ahead of those guys if the added weight doesn’t have a noticeable impact on Wadley’s agility. He’s a first-round talent in my eyes, but with the way the NFL tends to value the position, a second-round selection is more likely.
Overall Grade: 6.6 (First Round)