Eagles Bolster Offensive Depth in Fifth Round
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — The Eagles continued to bolster their offensive depth with their two fifth-round selections in the 2016 NFL Draft, first taking West Virginia running back and Wilmington native Wendell Smallwood with the 153th overall pick and then snaring 6-foot-6 Texas Christian University offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai 11 slots later.
Smallwood, a 5-foot-10, 208-pounder, led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 1,519 rushing yards and also added 26 receptions and nine touchdowns as a junior at WVU. Smallwood, who flashed an impressive 4.47 speed at the combine, is the first running back selected by the Eagles in the draft since Bryce Brown in 2012.
He bolsters a backfield currently highlighted by Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Kenjon Barner.
Smallwood was involved with a high-profile legal case following his freshman season at WVU, being arrested for witness tampering. The charges were ultimately dropped, however, when one of Smallwood's friends pleaded guilty in a murder case.
"I was just in the wrong situation," Smallwood told reporters at the NovaCare Complex when discussing the issue. "I was young, hanging out with the wrong people. I wasn't around when whatever happened. I wasn't involved. There was no evidence, no witness against me. It came out to be true and all the stuff was clear.
"I'm just learning from the situation and just trying to move forward to be a better man."
There were also some racial and homophobic remarks on Twitter that were so incendiary, people started re-tweeting them once Smallwood was selected, forcing him to quickly ditch his account.
Despite the controversy, Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman validated Smallwood's character.
"We're very comfortable bringing him in here," Roseman said. "He's got to prove it on and off the field but we have no doubts what kind of player and person he is."
"In this case, we knew about Wendell and what was going on with him on and off the field," Roseman continued. "And we did a lot of research and homework and spent a lot of time with him.Young guys make mistakes and we don't condone anything that he said there but we feel comfortable going forward."
To Smallwood's credit he handled his first press conference as well as he could have, considering the circumstances.
“I was young,” Smallwood said of his untoward Twitter remarks. “It was really embarrassing and I don’t believe anything I said. I’ve definitely grown from that since that stuff was sent out. I definitely learned from it and I don’t want anyone to feel any kind of way about it. I’m sorry about it if I offended anybody, but that’s not how I feel. That’s not the kind of person I am."
Vaitai, meanwhile, started 10 of 13 games for TCU last season for an offensive line that helped the Frogs produce a 1000-yard receiver and a 1000-yard rusher for just the second time in program history.
Known as "Big V" because few who aren't Tongan can pronounce his name, Vaitai is a project with some rare tools according to Roseman.
"(The coaches) would take him anywhere in the draft because of the rare tools that he has," Roseman said. "He's got all the tools in his body to be a good player. He's gotta get more consistent. That's why he went in the fifth round. But when you're talking about our team and what we need going forward, this is something we need — a big, athletic body to work with at tackle."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen