When scouting running backs, it’s all about picking your flavor. Maybe you prefer a smaller, quicker back with lots of moves. Maybe you want a big, brutish, beast back there that won’t outrun anyone but is nearly impossible to tackle. Ideally, every NFL fan wants both. But we all understand that finding a back with size, power, and speed is a challenging task. This has put many teams in a position that in order to meet their rushing goals they have to use a stable of backs to full all those roles.
I am not sure if there is a “total package” type of back in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. might be close. Physically, Wilder fits the bill for sure. He’s a solidly build 6-foot-2 225-pounds with very little body fat. The Seminoles are known for their athletes, and Wilder is the next in line. Wilder’s running style is a nice mix. He’s not a 4.3 type of back, but his long speed is above average for sure. His quickness for a man his size is exceptional, and being a big back, he’s not afraid to be physical and deliver a blow. In terms of upside, Wilder has it in spades and I don’t think we have seen anything close to the best of him.
In fact, among all the backs in this draft, the one thing Wilder does as well if not better than any of them is finish runs. Most of his best plays came tackle to tackle where he had to weed through traffic, and he blows through arm tackles and maintains excellent balance, pushing hard for extra yardage on every play. This is something NFL teams will look at as a huge positive.
But Wilder is more than a grinder. He has nice vision and patience to the hole, making quick cuts, looking light on his feet, and is able to accelerate quickly out of his breaks. The more you watch him play the more you can see his skill set is absolutely NFL ready. But it’s not without some questions. For one, Wilder is relatively inexperienced. In his breakout 2012 season he only had 110 carries and fewer than 150 for his career. This is a positive that he doesn’t have a ton of wear on his tires, but along those lines I would like to see if Wilder can string together multiple weeks of 18-22 carries because with his size and skills that is what a team is going to demand of him.
Overall there is so much to like about Wilder’s game. He runs a little high, but that’s not a shock for a taller back, and he opens himself up to hits, which could lead to injuries or fumbles. But overall Wilder is durable and hasn’t shown problems with fumbling, so it’s not serious. In 2013 I’d actually like to see him try and break a few more long runs to the outside rather instead of just working through traffic on the interior. I’m sure Wilder has another gear in there in the open field, and I want to see him explore it more out of those shotgun sets. The Seminole offense is going to be potent this year and could be pretty run heavy. Wilder has a chance to really ascend to among the top backs in the country. Much of it will depend on how much rope the Florida State offense gives him. If they lean on him, he could really show something special.
There are no draft eligible backs that I have a first round grade on at this point. Wilder is a late 2nd round prospect for me now. He could conceivably move up to a late 1st round pick with a big year. Wilder has a fabulous package and so many gifts the NFL wants. Time to just put it all together.