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Wendell Smallwood projects as fantasy role player

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Leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, each day NFL Fantasy will profile a prospect who could make a splash in fantasy next season. Today's subject is former West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood.

In his junior year at West Virginia, Wendell Smallwood took home the Big 12 rushing title with 1,519 yards and nine rushing scores and added 160 receiving yards. And while his size, 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds, may cap his opportunities for playing time out of the gate at the NFL level, he'll likely still be drafted late as a role-player in a committee backfield with upside as a pass-catcher. He's definitely not a bell-cow type, but in today's NFL there aren't many of those types left. So let's dig in and find out if Smallwood's strengths can translate into fantasy production in 2016 and beyond.

Full 2016 "Prospect a Day" list

Smallwood's NFL.com draft profile

Strengths

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:


     » Possesses elite acceleration
     » Lethal speed/agility combination
     » Decisive one-cut runner
     » Excellent hands and experience as a pass-catcher
     » Good instincts and intelligence as a pass-blocker

Smallwood clocked othe fastest times among running backs at the combine in both the three-cone drill and the 60-yard shuttle, and tied Ezekiel Elliot for fifth in the 40-yard dash with an official time of 4.47 seconds (a time which he improved upon -- 4.40 flat -- at his pro day, turning heads in the process). He possesses elite acceleration and the speed/agility combination that he showcased at the combine is arguably tops of the incoming running back class. In addition to his top-notch speed back attributes, Smallwood has also displayed excellent hands in recent workouts and has ample experience lining up as a slot receiver (mainly in his sophomore year: 31 receptions, 326 yards) making some tough catches along the way. So, like many of the second-tier backs in the upcoming draft, Smallwood's versatility is a boon for his draft value in both real life and fantasy drafts.

Weaknesses


     » Lacks a sense of patience, especially on gap runs
     » Size doesn't translate to bell-cow workload at NFL level
     » Character issues: Arrested in 2014

While Smallwood brings decisiveness and speed, he may be lacking in an extremely valuable attribute that NFL scouts are looking for: patience. In this film breakdown by Matt Waldman, it's clear that Smallwood approaches the line too quickly and fails to let the blocks ahead of him develop. If he had been even one step slower, he could have had the option to cut the run back and it would have been a bigger play than what actually transpired. Smallwood's size may hinder his ability to carry the workload of an every-down back, which is the case with many of these late-round draft prospects. Also, Smallwood was arrested in 2014 (the charges were dropped) for witness tampering, which may raise a red flag for NFL decision makers on the fence when it comes to choosing between Smallwood and another similar style runner.

Ideal NFL fantasy fits


     » Pittsburgh Steelers
     » Philadelphia Eagles
     » Carolina Panthers
     » Miami Dolphins

Darren Sproles is 32 and Ryan Mathews isn't the most durable back in the NFL, so Doug Pederson could be looking for some depth at the position later in the draft, and Smallwood is a guy who would be available and fits the West Coast system Pederson will run in Philadelphia. The Steelers could also use some depth at the position as Le'Veon Bell rehabs from a season-ending knee injury and DeAngelo Williams isn't getting any younger. Once both Bell and Williams were injured late last season, Pittsburgh struggled to fill the void they left. Mike Tomlin was also spotted at Smallwood's recent Pro Day and praised the talent coming out of WVU. Carolina could use a bit of versatility behind Jonathan Stewart which Smallwood can definitely provide. And as for Miami, the team has yet to add any backs since Lamar Miller left in free agency. The Dolphins definitely need another body behind Jay Ajayi, who right now projects as the team's starting runner but has durability issues of his own.

Early fantasy draft projection

It's hard to see Smallwood being drafted in standard fantasy leagues this season, unless he lands with a team that plans to get him involved immediately as their third-down guy. It's not out of the question for him to develop a role similar to that of Duke Johnson in Cleveland due to his speed and pass-catching prowess, but even that may be a long shot. In some extremely early dynasty league mock draft results on DynastyLeagueFootball.com, Smallwood went undrafted in eight out of 10 mocks. So if he's not even being drafted in dynasty leagues, it's likely he will be waiver wire material in standard formats for the 2016 campaign.

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

-- Follow Matt on Twitter @MattFranchise

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