Hawkeyes Wadley, Welsh open eyes at Senior Bowl

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

Two former Iowa football players will have to answer questions about their stature in order to rise in NFL Draft rankings.

Running back Akrum Wadley and guard Sean Welsh were the two Hawkeye representatives at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, last week, and both showed flashes of the talent that intrigues NFL scouts. But both were among the smaller players in their position groups as well.

It didn’t help that the North team they represented struggled for much of Saturday’s game because of poor quarterback play. The South won 45-16.

A closer look at how they fared:

North Squad running back Akrum Wadley of Iowa (25) runs through a hole during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Akrum Wadley

Wadley’s weight became a running joke in his time at Iowa, with coach Kirk Ferentz constantly bringing up the fact that he needed to be above 190 pounds. It was no joke last week, though, when Wadley weighed in at 188 pounds on a frame that measures 5-foot-9 7/8.

“That’s very light, especially when you’re talking about a guy that’s only playing on third down and in pass-blocking,” said Josh Liskiewitz, who scouts the Big Ten Conference for Pro Football Focus and was in attendance at the Senior Bowl. He said Wadley needs to add at least 10 pounds if he expects to play in the NFL.

Wadley rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his junior and senior seasons at Iowa, which is what earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl. But he’ll need to prove himself as a receiver and pass protector to have value at the professional level, scouts say.

During the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl, Wadley showed those skills. He was named the top running back at the showcase event during practices.

He reported interest from several NFL teams.

2018 Senior Bowl: Akrum Wadley Interview

“That’s going to be important for him, because I don’t think he’s going to be viewed as a guy that’s going to immediately start. Can he catch the ball out of the backfield?” Liskiewitz said. “He had his moments where he was extremely elusive. That’s big for him. If you’re a guy that can create on your own, you have a spot at the next level.”

Wadley carried eight times for 38 yards in the Senior Bowl. He was sent up the middle most of the time and his best run came on a late-game counterplay when he scrambled for 10 yards.

He was targeted only once in the passing game, with a short pass thumping incomplete off his chest.

During the practice sessions, Wadley was impressive. Josh Schmeelk of noted:

“I liked the versatility of two running backs: Rashaad Penny and Akrum Wadley. Wadley and Penny both showed their quickness running the ball. Wadley was also impossible to cover as a receiver out of the backfield. He was also a proficient kick returner in college.”

Most experts tout him as the sixth or seventh best running back in this year’s draft.

Iowa senior guard Sean Welsh raises the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl trophy as Hawkeye colored confetti flies after Iowa's 27-20 win over Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

Sean Welsh

Welsh, at 6-2 3/8 and 296 pounds, was the smallest offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl and had a solid, if not head-turning, showing. The defensive linemen weren’t exactly eye-popping, which didn’t help the offensive line players showcase their abilities, Liskiewitz noted.

Welsh showed better-than-average pass-blocking skills, as well as the ability to play center and guard. He is trending toward a fourth- or fifth-round NFL Draft pick, Liskiewitz said.

“I think he’s a known quantity,” Liskiewitz said of the three-year Hawkeye starter. “It wouldn’t be surprising to me to see him starting (in the NFL) somewhere down the line. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a high-end starter.

“He doesn’t have great athleticism; doesn’t have great power. There’s no one facet of his game that stands out as top-end.

But Welsh also has no weaknesses. His future may be as a center.

“That’s one of those positions teams don’t invest in because they’re easy to replace,” Liskiewitz said.

On Saturday, Welsh played exclusively as the offense's left guard. The North team ran for 94 yards on 18 carries while he was in the game. He also appeared to be solid in pass protection, although blitzing wasn’t allowed in the game and most of the pass-rushing came off the edges.

The most vital contribution Welsh made was continuing to talk about his battle with depression. That resulted in this story:

More:Sean Welsh is a role model