A team win is made up of strong individual performances and Sunday’s win over the Colts continued a very strong outing from a player many started to overlook. Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood ended his afternoon with 56 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown and a stunning 34-yard reception. After a wobbly offseason, this was a showing that was absolutely needed from the former West Virginia rusher.
Smallwood was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and would go on to record 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 carries, before suffering an injury that would cut his rookie season short. A promising offseason and training camp saw Smallwood fueled by the competition brought to the table by Corey Clement, adding a sense or urgency and aggression into his game. He began meeting tackles head on as opposed to trying to dance around them and all of a sudden, Smallwood began to look like the back the Eagles hoped he would become. Injuries crept up the back stairs again, while Clement’s dominance during camp earned him a regular spot in the rotation…and we all know what happened next.
In his third offseason, the boot was on the other foot. It felt like every other Eagles running back was battling injury except for Smallwood. Gifted with a silver platter of opportunity that would see him take regular first team reps during camp and preseason, he simply failed to capitalize on any of them. Eventually, Smallwood clung onto a roster spot and was named the team’s fourth running back. With Sproles and Ajayi sidelined and Corey Clement less than 100%, this was Smallwood’s moment. When the opportunity mattered most, he came up huge.
“Wendell has always impressed me.” Head Coach Doug Pederson told reporters. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s really improved his craft and put himself in a position to help us. He did it again in training camp again year and the first part of the season. Got to have guys like that. Might be role players, but you know what, their role is pretty big in games like this when your two top guys are down in the backfield. Along the same lines, I thought [RB] Josh [Adams] stepped in and made some nice runs too. So we continue — because they also play special teams, we continue to rotate guys and make sure they’re fresh throughout the game.”
For Smallwood, it was all about running aggressively and you could see it in his play. If he was chipped early, the 5’10 running back would fall forward, stumbling to find his feet and extending his body for extra yardage. He wasn’t always as dominant as Josh Adams, but his attacking mentality was visible.
“I think just fighting, especially on short yardage.” Smallwood said. “Second-and-longs, first-and-longs, you get 8 [or] you get 9 [yards], it makes your second-and-short, third-and-short easier. I think just fighting for extra yards and getting that line pumped. The line loves when the running backs run hard. They kind of feed off of that. It was great today.”
And of course, Smallwood punched in the game winning touchdown, something he won’t forget in a hurry. “I felt like that was almost one of the easiest touchdowns I’ve had.” He said with a smile on his face after the game. “[C Jason] Kelce and [G Stefen] Wisniewski worked up the double team and I knew it was coming. We practiced that play all week, so I just hung in there. I think they had two safeties, and [Kelce and Wisniewski] blew those guys off the ball and I ran it in behind them.”
The running back picture remains murky, but Smallwood could still have a huge role to play with durability evading both Sproles and Ajayi. It’s a crucial point in his rookie deal now and if Smallwood can prove that when he’s on the field, he has the potential to still develop into a valuable runner, then there is hope yet for a depleted backfield and a running back who many were ready to turn their backs on.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports