IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dan Shonka’s advice to Akrum Wadley? Catch everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Slants. Crosses. Screens. Wheels. Punts. Kickoffs. Butterflies. Colds.
“The big thing is, they’re probably not going to ask to have him block a lot [in the NFL],” Shonka, general manager and national scout with Ourlands.com, told Land of 10 when asked about Wadley, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ star tailback.
“He’ll be in on third downs, swing him outside, use him in coverage. He’ll be that ‘space’ player. For some reason, the last three years, now you don’t have that slobber-knocking middle linebacker — you’ve got a guy who can run. [NFL teams want] that little guy who can out-quick the linebacker. And when they run inside, you’ve got a chance to squeak through there.”
Squeaking, Wadley’s mastered. The New Jersey native recorded 46 touches that went for at least 10 yards last fall, the third-most of any Big Ten runner who’s back in 2017 other than Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (61) and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (50). And Wadley managed those 46 while in a time-share with LeShun Daniels:
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) August 1, 2017
“My guess is, if [Wadley] has a decent year, he’ll be a fourth-round guy [in the 2018 draft],” Shonka said. “I don’t think he’ll go anywhere earlier, but he’ll go in that fourth-round area.”
It’s not him. It’s them. In the scouts club, size matters. Wadley is 5-foot-11, 195 pounds of cruise missile. The average build of the tailbacks plucked in rounds 1-3 of the last two NFL drafts was 6 feet, 223.
Which means even if No. 25 rambles for 1,500 yards on the ground this season (which he could), even if he jukes his way into the Heisman Trophy radar (which he might), Wadley’s still probably a few cheeseburgers shy of a juicy rookie payday.
“I feel like however they want to utilize me on offense, I’m ready,” Wadley said. “You know, that’s what we practice for. I’ve been practicing. We’ve all been practicing. And if it’s catching the ball 15 times, anything to win a game, we’re going to do it.”
Adding former Nevada tailback James Butler, who’s rushed for 2,681 yards combined the last two seasons, as a graduate-school transfer doesn’t just give the Hawkeyes cover. It gives them options.
One in the backfield, one in the slot. Two in the slot. One in the backfield, one out wide. Wildcat. Wing T. Double Wing. Single Wing. The only limits are Brian Ferentz’s imagination and Kirk Ferentz’s patience.
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley leads all returning Power 5 RBs with his 2.48 yards per route run last season.
Could he even improve that in 2017? pic.twitter.com/9qOgfj1ugu
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 27, 2017
He gets it done in the running game and as a pass catcher. Is there a more underrated HB in the nation than Iowa’s Akrum Wadley? pic.twitter.com/nUjDyjsC5H
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 3, 2017
“Wadley’s good at screens, things like that,” Shonka said. “Butler might be a little better downfield, catching the ball on wheel routes and things like that.”
Good problem to have.
Check that. A great problem.
“If you’re working hard, you’re going to get yours,” Wadley said. “If I’m working hard and Butler’s working hard, why could I not have 100 yards [per game]? Why could he not have 100 yards? And we could have 200 yards [between us].
“We’re a run team. You know, coach always talks about us being a run-first [offense] and we’re all going to eat.”
Bonus: Versatility and flexibility have never been sexier. Or more marketable. Former Wisconsin Badgers tailback James White — whose six carries and 14 catches out of the backfield helped stoke New England’s historic rally in Super Bowl LI — isn’t just the picture of the present.
For pro running backs, he’s the future.
‘He just has to elevate every part of his game to get drafted in that fourth-round area.’
— Dan Shonka, Ourlads.com, on Iowa tailback Akrum Wadley
In January, longtime ESPN draftnik Mel Kiper ranked Wadley as the sixth-best tailback prospect in the NFL pool. He elected to return to school for his senior season anyway, to see about finishing what the Hawkeyes started in 2015.
“He’s got to show at least some grit to stick his face in there [on blocks],” Shonka advised. “But he won’t be asked to do that a whole lot. At Iowa, he’s not asked to do that much at all.
“He’s not a big guy, so he does what he can do, blocking. He has to have good vision. He still needs to be a little more patient in his running because sometimes you get out ahead of a blocker, you want to see guys who can cut off a block. He can do it. He just has to elevate every part of his game to get drafted in that fourth-round area.”
Wadley’s legs, the stop-starts, the joystick jump-cuts, are going to turn heads and open doors. But it’s the hands that are going keep No. 25 dancing at the NFL party, long-term.
“If we put in those hard-working days, everybody’s going to eat,” he said.
Two cheeseburgers, please. Hold the onions.