Iowa RB Akrum Wadley packs on pounds, gets ready to show his speed at NFL Combine

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Akrum Wadley put up one of the best numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine merely by stepping on a scale.

The shifty former Iowa running back is up to 194 pounds, with plans to add another five before the April draft.

“I’ve been eating,” Wadley proudly told reporters here Thursday before he prepares to run through a series of drills Friday morning.

If you don’t know why Wadley’s weight is of such interest, you haven’t been following Hawkeye football. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz repeatedly spoke of the need for his most talented playmaker to eclipse 190 pounds in order to hold up to the pounding of his position.

Iowa senior running back Akrum Wadley celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Boston College during the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.

NFL teams have been hammering that message home as well. So it was a concern when Wadley showed up at January’s Senior Bowl weighing only 188 pounds. That’s not conducive to a long NFL career.

Wadley took that message to heart … and stomach.

But the New Jersey kid who rushed for 2,190 yards and rang up 26 total touchdowns the past two seasons at Iowa has more to prove here than merely an ability to eat.

It’s a deep draft for running backs, and Wadley is widely considered to be the 10th-to-12th-best prospect among them. Typically, seven running backs are taken in the draft’s first three rounds. After that? That’s where Wadley has some room to move up.

He can help his cause with a terrific time in the 40-yard dash. Wadley said his goal is to be in the 4.4-second range.

He can boost his stock by convincing teams he has value on special teams, something he was rarely asked to do at Iowa. Wadley pointed to the 171 yards he gained on five kick returns in the Hawkeyes’ Pinstripe Bowl victory in December.  That’s a viable path to NFL playing time.

And then there’s the biggest question surrounding Wadley, who is seen as a change-of-pace back rather than a workhorse. Can he handle pass-blocking duties when called upon? 

Wadley said Wednesday that’s a topic he addresses before NFL teams can even inquire.

“I bring it up when teams ask me a weakness in my game. Because I don’t see any weakness catching the ball, carrying the ball,” Wadley said. “I’m willing to do it. You know I’m tough. It’s just my technique. I always talk about my technique. It’s got to get better.

“You can’t play if you can’t protect the quarterback. The quarterback is the general, is the leader. You’ve got to be able to protect him. And I understand that.”

The value of a running back being able to block was underscored Tuesday when new Colts coach Frank Reich talked about veteran running back Frank Gore, never once mentioning what he did carrying the football.

“Frank Gore set the standard on what backs do in protection. I remember hearing stories when I’d be coaching for other teams that Frank Gore could run the protection meetings. He could make the protection calls for the quarterback,” Reich said. “This guy as far as I’m concerned is a living legend.”

But he’s a 34-year-old legend and the Colts have already told him they’re looking to get younger at that position. These types of decisions open up possibilities for players like Wadley, as long as they prove they’re up to the task.

NFL teams are increasingly looking to job-shares at running back, which the Saints did last season to such great effect with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Wadley averaged 6.4 yards per carry as a junior, when he shared time with LeShun Daniels Jr. Last year, that average fell to 4.4 as he was needed to carry a heavier load.

Wadley also caught 64 passes for 668 yards the past two seasons. That has not gone unnoticed.

“If you’re not necessarily having a team that is full of tight ends, more people are now going to their running backs (as receivers),” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimtroff noted. “I think it’s a really, really important part to adding explosiveness to your game. I still believe you can get some really good football players from (rounds) three to five, or three to six or seven, no question. You don’t have to go to the top of the draft to find depth runners or versatile runners.”

That’s exactly what Wadley wants to hear. His skill set seems ideal for the modern NFL.

The extra weight should help Wadley stand up bettler to blitzing defenders. If he can show that he has maintained his speed while adding pounds, that will be a big moment for him. His college production, especially in big games, was outstanding, so his film speaks for itself.

Wadley said he’s met with all 32 NFL teams between the Senior Bowl and the Combine. He has formal discussions set up with the Dolphins and Bills here as well. Someone will call his name in April, probably in the fourth through the sixth round. He said he doesn’t care who or when. He’s ready to prove he can be a game-breaking player at the next level as well.

How is he selling himself to NFL personnel?

“I always like to say my vision, quick feet. My ability to make defenders miss in the open field. I’ve got really good hands out of the backfield. Tough. I can go in between tackles, I can go outside. Everything,” Wadley said. “I don’t ever stop talking.”

Or eating.