Ex-Hawkeye Wadley shows speed at NFL Combine, but has tough time outrunning 'small' label

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS — There are three words that will seemingly forever trail Akrum Wadley: “For his size.”

That was the caveat again Friday when the former star running back at Iowa went through drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Wadley ran a 4.54-second 40, which was what scouts wanted to see from him, even if he was hoping for something in the 4.4s.                       

“For his size, he runs hard,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock noted. “He’s a physical, tough runner. He’s a little quicker than he is fast. He’ll stick his nose in the fan on pass protection, but he’s going to have to make his living on third down and special teams.”

Akrum Wadley topped 1,000 rushing yards and was named third-team all-Big Ten in each of the past two seasons. He's coming off a 159-yard game at Nebraska, pictured.

Added NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson: “He flashed a couple of times. Smaller than I thought he would be.”

Two sentences that seem to sum up the consensus on Wadley, who figures to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round in April, no matter what he showed Friday.

“That’s a really good time for him,” Pro Football Focus scouting analyst Josh Liskiewitz said of Wadley’s 40-yard dash time. “But if he would have gone sub-4.5, that would have changed the perception of him entirely. As silly as that sounds.”


Wadley tallied 3,904 all-purpose yards for the Hawkeyes. But he stands just 5-foot-10, 194 pounds.

A closer look at where Wadley stands coming out of the Combine:

Is speed a big issue?

Not according to scouts here. Running backs who put up 40 times in the 4.5s can be very productive in the NFL, as long as they have what Wadley does.

“It’s not really about long speed. It’s about sudden bursts and acceleration,” ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen said. “Speed is not his game. His game is lateral mobility and quickness and his vision.

“He’s going to be able to beat linebackers in space. He can catch screen routes and turn them into long gains. He’s not going to be a downhill thumper between the tackles. We know that. He doesn’t have a huge frame, but there’s a place for guys like that in the league.”

Versatility is a calling card

Wadley had a strong Senior Bowl showing in January because he showed he can catch the ball and play on special teams. He did drop a pass in individual drills Friday.

But ...

“He has a good body of work as a receiver. That’s going to help, for sure,” Liskiewitz said.

Wadley showed in Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl win in December that he can return kickoffs as well, averaging 34.1 yards on five of them.

“It’s the versatility that can keep you on the field on first down in offensive nickel personnel,” Bowen said. “He’s got return ability, too, and that’s going to help him when he goes to camp to compete for a spot. ‘I can cover kicks. I can return kicks. I catch the ball out of the backfield on third down.’ That’s a lot of valuable things right there.

 “There’s not many guys who get 20-25 touches a game anymore.”

That means the team that drafts Wadley must be committed to playing to his strengths.

“An offense that says we value you as a guy that catches the ball out of the backfield. We value you as a guy that can run inside zone on third down when we have a light run front out of the shotgun,” Bowen said.

Can't escape his dimensions

Wadley said Thursday that he plans to add another five pounds of weight before the draft. But even then, he’ll be on the small side for NFL running backs. And there’s no way he can compensate for that.

“It’s going to be his size and his ability to run inside. That’s what they’re always going to say. This is a size-speed sport,” Bowen said. “How many touches can he handle a game? Can he hold up inside? If you do put him at returner, can he take massive hits?”

The number of strong running backs available won’t help Wadley, either.

“The issue is the volume in the class,” Liskiewitz said. “There’s so many guys that it’s hard to distinguish yourself. It’s going to depend on what a team is looking for.”