TAMPA, Fla. — Akrum Wadley made a New Year’s resolution to refrain from using the words “I” and “me” in interview sessions as often as he had in the past.
But the Iowa junior running back has a decision to make and it’s about “I” and “me” and not “we.” The NFL is knocking on Wadley’s doorstep, and he’s a few days from deciding to either answer the bell or stay inside. Following the Hawkeyes’ 30-3 loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl on Monday, Wadley remains undecided.
“I’d say it’s a 50-50 chance,” Wadley said of whether he would go pro. “I still have got to talk to my parents and my coaches, and we’re going to figure out the best decision for me.”
Statistically, few players put up the type of numbers that Wadley rolled out in 2016. He rushed for 1,081 yards to join teammate LeShun Daniels as Iowa’s only 1,000-yard tandem in school history. Wadley finished seventh in rushing yards in the Big Ten but his 6.4-yard per carry average was better than any back in the conference with more yards.
Wadley shined the brightest in the biggest moments this season, as well. Against Michigan and Florida, ranked second and sixth, respectively, in total defense, he hit 115 yards each time. He caught five of Iowa’s eight completions against Michigan and four of seven facing the Gators. Wadley had 66.4 percent of Iowa’s yards in those two games.
“I just always felt like when my number is called, I have to deliver,” Wadley said, “whether it’s catching it out of the backfield, running routes in the slot or running the ball. I feel like I have to deliver.”
Wadley did that in more than just those two games. Wadley scored game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdowns at Minnesota (54 yards) and Rutgers (26 yards). He burst for 75-yard touchdowns against Purdue and Nebraska. When it came to catching the ball, he was second on the Hawkeyes in catches (36) and yards (315) and third in touchdowns (3). Wadley was both versatile and effective on offense. At times, like against Florida and Michigan, he was Iowa’s only threat.
“I support whatever he decides to do,” said Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, whose career concluded Monday. “I think if he were to leave he’ll get drafted by an NFL team and have a great NFL career. If he stays, the same thing.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Wadley, who stands 5 feet 11 and weighs around 185 pounds, as his sixth-best running back prospect should he declare for the draft.
“From the beginning of the season I felt like if I could have a breakout year, I could be able to go,” Wadley said. “That was motivation and that was encouraging.
As for Kiper’s ranking, Wadley said, “I appreciate it. That’s a great feeling. That’s a great thing.”
Wadley was more guarded and introspective following the game Monday, especially regarding his thought process about his upcoming decision.
“I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I’ve got to talk it over. It’s going to take a couple of days. Talk it over with my family, my coaches, they’re all going to have my back and play a part of my making a big decision.”
“It’s a strong running back class this year. But I feel like if it’s meant, it’s meant. I could train with these backs. It is what it is.”
As for Iowa, Wadley’s departure would force some new faces into the backfield. Daniels, who finished with 1,058 yards this year, is out of eligibility. True freshman Toks Akinribade had 16 carries for 33 yards. Junior Derrick Mitchell had two runs for 12 yards and a score. He barely played after seeing significant time in 2015. Plus coaches are excited for freshman Toren Young, who is redshirted this season.
When asked what would help sway him to stay, Wadley said, “Maybe I could increase my draft stock and have a better year than this year.”
It’s doubtful that opinion will keep him at Iowa next year, especially if NFL scouts harbor a similar opinion as Kiper.