Akrum Wadley can do 'great things' if he returns to Iowa in 2017

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

TAMPA, Fla. — There was a lot of “next year” talk Thursday surrounding Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.

Next year at Iowa? Or next year in the NFL?

To date, nothing has surfaced that indicates the fourth-year junior will turn pro after Monday’s Outback Bowl vs. Florida at Raymond James Stadium. But Wadley hasn’t had the chance to speak for himself in six weeks; the university hasn’t made him available for media interviews since a brief Nov. 19 session after Iowa’s 28-0 win at Illinois.

Iowa's Akrum Wadley was the difference-maker on offense in the Hawkeyes' 14-13 win against Michigan on Nov. 12.

Wadley’s backfield running mate, fourth-year senior LeShun Daniels Jr., served as his spokesman Thursday after Iowa’s padded practice at the University of Tampa.

“It’s never anything all that serious … about the NFL,” Daniels said of Wadley. “Sometimes he’ll ask me what I think about stuff. But it’s never been all that serious, at least yet.”

By all indications, Wadley hasn’t made a decision one way or another.

Daniels said he would support his friend and teammate no matter what.

But he also said, if Wadley asked him for advice, Daniels would tell him, “You can’t be slacking off at any point in time when you’re getting prepared. Scouts can come work you out at any time, so you have to make sure your body weight is always up.”

Wadley has had well-publicized weight-control issues. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has been adamant about Wadley getting his weight consistently at 190 points. In fact, Ferentz brought it up again Dec. 15 when asked about any stay-or-go decision Wadley might be making.

“Akrum's a really talented guy. And I'll tell you, he's improved with every step along the way,” Ferentz said. “I think a year from now, he'll have a really good chance. But he's going to have to get bigger and stronger, because there aren't any 185-pound backs I'm aware of that are playing a lot (in the NFL).”

But there’s no denying Wadley’s unique talents on a 5-foot-11 frame.

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His ability to juke defenders in the open field is the main reason Iowa could move the ball in the Nov. 12 upset of Michigan. Wadley accounted for 167 yards in that game — 115 rushing, 52 receiving — on 28 touches. That was 73 percent of Iowa’s total offense that night.

Wadley is 34 rushing yards short of reaching 1,000 for the season and he’s been doing it in a backfield time share with Daniels (who has 1,013 yards). Wadley leads the team with 13 touchdowns and is second with 32 receptions (for 294 yards).

Just imagine what he could do next year at Iowa in a lead role.

“With his explosiveness, he has the potential to do some great, great things,” Daniels said. “He has the potential to be one of the best running backs to (play) here.”

Some NFL Draft analysts think it's a good idea for running backs to turn pro early, to save the wear and tear on their bodies, to extend what can be an already-short professional shelf life. And Wadley does have a rare skill set, one that hasn't been in Iowa's backfield since perhaps Ronnie Harmon in the mid-1980s.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis didn’t hesitate Thursday in saying that Wadley was part of the 2017 plans.

“He has just continued to grow as a player (and) off the field as a student,” Davis said. “I really expect him to have an outstanding year next year.”