IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tom Petty had it right all along. The waiting is the hardest part.
It’s all Iowa fans can do as they gaze toward New Jersey, waiting for the proverbial white smoke to emerge in the form of a social media post or press release, indicating running back Akrum Wadley has made a decision about his NFL future.
All that hangs in the balance is the future of Iowa’s running back situation. Fans are prone to over-analyzing situations, freak outs and irrational thoughts. It’s just what happens.
But you can’t overstate the importance of Wadley’s decision on the 2017 season. If he stays, Iowa is in a great position. If he leaves, there are more questions than at the end of “Inception.”
Wadley is an all-conference rusher coming off a breakout season. He would become the centerpiece of the offense, building on his 1,081 rushing yards, 315 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns.
Wadley is a blue-chip stock. His past track record is a good indication of what is to come.
But if he goes? Well, running back becomes a high-risk play. Volatility is to be expected with big gains and losses, potentially in the same game.
Wadley and fellow 1,000-yard rusher LeShun Daniels, a senior, accounted for 90.9 percent of Iowa’s carries and 96.5 percent of Iowa’s rushing yards from running backs and fullbacks. They were the rushing attack, aside from the occasional reverse or scramble by quarterback C.J. Beathard.
— Heavens! (@HeavensHawkeye) January 2, 2017
Iowa returns only 20 running back carries, if Wadley turns pro. It’s an inexperienced group. Nearly as many questions will surround the backs as does the depth at wide receiver.
Toks Akinribade would lead all returning backs with 16 carriers from his true freshman season. Derrick Mitchell started out as the third-down back, but Wadley took over the role during the season. Toren Young, coming off a redshirt, would also be in the mix.
Iowa is high on the future of the position, but even the coaching staff doesn’t truly know what it has with the group. Coaches aren’t ever certain on what they have in almost any player — incoming freshman A.J. Epenesa may prove to be an exception — until they get significant snaps.
Now, running back is a position where an inexperienced player can make an immediate impact. It’s that way across most of the skill positions and could easily be the case with an experienced offensive line opening up holes for Iowa’s running backs.
Wadley’s decision changes the perception on the offense’s capabilities. The Hawkeyes will break in a new quarterback this fall. If Wadley returns, that signal caller — Las Vegas would all but make Nathan Stanley the early betting favorite — enters a pretty good situation, insulated by plenty of talent. The majority of the offensive line returns. He’ll inherit Matt VandeBerg, a true No. 1 receiving option. Wadley would add a star running back to lean on. The foundation of a capable offense would be in place.
Without Wadley, the questions outnumber the certainties, which is a scary proposition after a season when Iowa scored 17 points or fewer six times.
The biggest issue at play is Wadley’s future. Is turning pro the right move for him? It’s not an easy decision to make, especially for someone with so much uncertainty about his draft position.
Sure, ESPN’S Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as his No. 6 running back, but more scouts view him as a late-round pick.
How his decision impacts Iowa isn’t his top priority and it shouldn’t be, but it doesn’t change the fact he holds the state of the team’s running backs in his hands.
That’s not hyperbole. It’s just the truth.