Originally posted on Football Nation | Last updated 3/23/12
By most indications, Virginia Tech Hokies tailback David Wilson possesses all the makings of a starting NFL running back. He’s an excellent hybrid of size, quickness and power; not to mention, his resilience will allow him to handle more than 250 carries a year. Additionally, he’s flexible enough to be a receiver out of the backfield and a stellar kick returner.
Overall, Wilson posted an impressive NFL Combine performance. While he recorded a fast 40-yard dash time and led all participating tailbacks in the vertical and broad jumps, Wilson simply exhibited excellence in the pass-receiving portion of the Combine. No only did he appear to possess all the natural skills of a natural wide receiver, but he showed an absolute capacity to function as a three-down back at the next level. And due to his strong Combine performance, many scouts promoted Wilson to the second-rated halfback spot on their draft boards — considering that some teams are in desperate need for a talented running back, Wilson could potentially find himself in the first round if a franchise decides to reach for him.
David Wilson: The Vitals Height: 5’10”
Position: Running Back
School: Virginia Tech
College Production/Stats Although this season was his first as the undisputed starter for the Hokies, Wilson was nonetheless voted to be the ACC’s Player of the Year. He did this after averaging 5.9 ypc and recording 1,709 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He also managed to catch 22 passes for 129 yards and a TD.
A former high school All-American halfback from Danville, Va., Wilson first set foot on the field at Virginia Tech in 2009. As a true freshman, he played in every game, finishing the season with 334 yards and 59 carries, and he returned 17 kickoffs for 325 yards. During the team’s winter conditioning sessions, Wilson managed to tie for the team’s fastest 40-time, posting a 4.29; which, in tandem with his efforts in the VT weight room, earned him an “Iron Hokie” status. In addition to competing on the football team, Wilson also participated in the school’s track-and-field meets, notably placing among the top 5 in the triple jump during the ACC Championships.
Going into his sophomore season, Wilson’s pending redshirt was scrubbed after his stellar spring practice performances. During this season, he split carries with talented halfback Ryan Williams, but moved into a more prominent role due to his consistent contributions to VT’s offense. By the end of 2010, Wilson had recorded 619 yards, 5 touchdowns and 116 carries. Again, he demonstrated serious abilities as a capable receiver out of the backfield, catching 12 passes for 234 yards and 2 TDs. On special teams, Wilson also managed to return a pair of crucial kickoffs for TDs against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.
Entering the 2011 season, Wilson persisted in posting lineman-caliber weight-room stats, most significantly accomplishing a 445-lb. front squat. He also continued participating on the school’s track-and-field team, placing 2nd in the Triple Jump at the ACC championships and 6th in the NCAA Outdoor Championships, where he earned All-American recognition.
Strengths First and foremost, one of Wilson’s biggest strengths is his acceleration and ability to burst through the hole. For the past three years, Wilson has been recognized as possessing just about the greatest acceleration and burst of any tailback in the NCAA. His quickness, in fact, is the asset that allows him to exploit defensive line creases before the linebackers can plug assigned gaps.
Additionally, he uses his capacities for speed and off-tackle explosiveness to tear into some extended downfield runs. He’s an elusive runner with some excellent moves for avoiding tacklers and picking up extra yards. Scouts often comment on his elite change-of-direction skills, which let him make full-speed cuts and can cause defenders to miss without him breaking speed.
According to several experts, Wilson’s physical traits and temperament are assets — he possesses a compact frame, solid lower-body thickness and a well-defined physique. As a result of his efforts in the weight room and on VT’s track squad, it’s clear that he’s a competitive and extremely athletic runner. He has a set of proverbial afterburners that allow him to exploit space, where his dynamic balance and creative mind allow him to manufacture extra yardage seemingly from nothing.
Going outside the tackles, it’s been noted that Wilson shoots out to the edge as quickly as any other tailback entering the 2012 Draft. This is because he runs aggressively on each down and accelerates to top speed quickly. In doing so, he exhibits excellent vision, reads his blockers well, and allows plays to develop until he sees a running lane through which he can explode.
Perhaps most notably, though, Wilson has above-average hands when receiving passes out of the backfield. He catches the ball away from his body and deftly draws it inward without wedging it into his body. In fact, throughout his career, Wilson has proven to be an extremely consistent receiver — he has an intuitive grasp of screen mechanics and offensive coordinators can also feel comfortable posting him into the slot, as he’s a natural route runner.
In the end, scouts seem to have come to the unanimous conclusion that Wilson posses both the strength and the girth to excel as a No.1 NFL running back; however it’s been predicted that he’d likely be best-suited for teams running a split backfield. Apparently enough, though, he’s a versatile-enough player for just about any offensive scheme, with the added bonus of possesing a great deal of experience returning kicks; not to mention, his character is such that he has no record of off-field issues. Rather, he’s proven himself to be a dedicated worker and stellar student-athlete.
Weaknesses In the NFL, Wilson will likely find himself needing to become a better runner between tackles and through tight spaces – while he was given a lot of large defensive holes in the ACC, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll see considerably smaller running lanes in the pros. And though he can undoubtedly be an every-down back for NFL teams, it’s no small secret that his pass protection needs a great deal of development. Scouts also say he needs to understand that every carry can’t be a homerun, and he’ll need to take whatever his blockers give him.
Experts have further observed he sometimes has the tendency to go vertical, which has the unfortunate consequence of exposing his ribs and the ball. This is important, most notably, because he’s become fumble-prone lately. Although he (by no means) is a hopeless fumbler, more than one scout has commented upon the sloppiness with which he handles the football while trying to struggle for extra yardage. While his willingness to try and produce additional yards may be respectable, it’s clear that he needs to place greater emphasis upon keeping possession of the ball. In the NFL, Wilson’s first and foremost priority should be working on his ball security issues
Significantly, blocking is another aspect of Wilson’s game that will require a great deal of improvement for him to be an every-down back. Scouts have observed that Wilson often goes into pass protection and lunges at defenders, but he'll sometimes nearly expose the passer to a sack in doing so. He’ll need to perfect his blocking technique to ensure he can protect the quarterback in situations where it’s required. At this point, though, he isn’t reliable enough to be playing 3rd downs, and it will take a great deal of coaching to get him to the required level.
Potential Landing Spots Prior to the Cincinnati Bengals' recent signing of Benjarvis “The Law Firm” Green-Ellis, the team was generally projected as a top contender to take Wilson with an early pick. If coaches decide they still need to increase depth at the position with a young back, though, Wilson could add that degree of explosiveness that Green-Ellis may arguably lack. In the end, he could prove to be the perfect complement on the ground for AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham. And on the flip side, having lost the Law Firm to free agency, the New England Patriots might also be in the market for a tailback like Wilson, although they haven't been known to rely very heavily on having a cogent ground game in the last half-decade or so.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decide to forego selecting former Alabama Halfback Trent Richardson, then it’s possible that the team could select Wilson in the second round instead. While LeGarrette Blount can be a bruising back, the Bucs haven’t used him very much as a pass-catcher — it’s possible that the addition of a space-player like Wilson could add another dynamic dimension to a team that’s already being tenatively touted by sports commentators as a potential “dream team” that includes wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
While quite a few draft mock-ups expect the Cleveland Browns to take an offensive lineman in the first round, it’s also significant to note that Peyton Hillis was recently allowed to leave the team in free agency. Considering the dynamic presence Hillis brought to the team during the 2010 season, the Browns are sure to be looking for a playmaker to replace him for their offense in the second round, or perhaps even in the first.
On the other hand, the St. Louis Rams are also a contender for Wilson. Steven Jackson’s career is clearly starting to wind down, and it’s very likely that he’ll see a decreasing number of carries in the seasons to come. If St. Louis gets a stab at him in the second round, or if the team decides to gamble on him in the first, Wilson may be on the next train to St Louis, where he'd be an excellent addition to an offense that’s currently having difficulty treading water.
Draft Projection While some analysts seem to believe Lamar Miller (or even Doug Martin) may be the 2nd best halfback in the 2012 NFL Draft Class, it’s looking more and more likely that Wilson will actually be the back to be selected in that position. His strength, speed and acceleration will probably trump his pass-protection and ball-carrying issues, which are considered to be easier to coach and otherwise correct. In the end, Wilson is very probable to fall somewhere as a late-1st or mid-2nd round pick.
NFL Comparison According to quite a few analysts, Wilson’s patience, ability to exploit the hole, and read developing plays are all similar to the skills exhibited by Chris “CJ2K” Johnson during his days with ECU. In the end, though, Wilson will likely be feared as a space player and a receiving back — a potential loose cannon in offensive schemes not unlike a bigger-bodied version of Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush. Of course, only time with tell, though.
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