April 30, 2016
The Eagles kicked off their Day 3 activity by drafting a local player that has an interesting past. With the 153rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, they selected Wendell Smallwood, a 5’10”, 208-pound running back from West Virginia.
On the field, Smallwood had a productive three-year career in Morgantown playing for Dana Holgorsen. In 2015, Smallwood ran for 1,519 yards on 238 attempts (6.4-yard average) and had 160 yards for on 26 receptions (6.2-yard average):
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman talked about "doubles," Smallwood's ability to make runs of more than 10+ yards. According to Roseman, Smallwood is coming off 58 such plays last season at WVU.
"It's play after play," Roseman said. "He runs with a determination. You see the speed on tape and then you see it in the testing."
Smallwood, who grew up an Eagles fan, became close with running backs coach Duce Staley during the draft process. After visiting the NovaCare Complex, he had an idea that his hometown team was interested.
"It feels great to be here," Smallwood said. "To be a fan of the Eagles all my life and watching since I was young, it's just a dream come true being at this place. It's a blessing."
Unlike some of the Eagles' other draft picks, though, the initial focus on Smallwood won't come on the field. A native of nearby Wilmington, Delaware, he got into some serious legal trouble back in his hometown a few years ago. In 2014, he was arrested for witness intimidation charges that related to a second-degree murder case. Smallwood was alleged to have tried to persuade a murder witness to recant testimony.
After Smallwood was arrested and brought back to Wilmington, the charges were eventually dropped after his friend pleaded to second-degree murder. From the MetroNews:
“Since his arrest, Wendell Smallwood has been fully cooperative with the Department of Justice and Wilmington Police Department including giving a full statement regarding his involvement in witness intimidation. He was fully prepared to testify truthfully in the upcoming trial, and his cooperation was instrumental to the State in securing today’s conviction of Zakee Lloyd.
“There is no evidence of Smallwood’s involvement in the murder of Manuel Oliveras. Moreover, despite the recorded phone call between Smallwood and Lloyd, there is no evidence that it resulted in a threat being conveyed to that witness. In consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, including Smallwood’s full cooperation with authorities and the conviction of Zakee Lloyd, the State today entered a nolle prosequi on the witness intimidation charge against Wendell Smallwood.”
The arrest was two years ago, but the incident dates back two years before that when Smallwood was still in high school. The 22-year-old said that he answered questions about those set of circumstances from every NFL team in the pre-draft process.
"I was just in the wrong situation," Smallwood said. "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. And I'm just learning from the situation and just trying to move forward to be a better man."
Despite all of this information, the Eagles said that, after doing their due diligence with both team and league security, they were fine with taking Smallwood.
"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."
Smallwood went on to play two more seasons at West Virginia after the charges were dropped, and he was a second-team All-Big 12 running back as a junior. After he was drafted, Eagles fans found (and then highlighted) some very questionable tweets on Smallwood’s personal Twitter account, which has since been deleted.
Like many companies would do with potential employees, the Eagles did a social media check with Smallwood prior to drafting him.
"In this case, we knew about Wendell and what was going on with him on and off the field," Roseman said. "And we did a lot of research and homework and spent a lot of time with him. Again, young guys make mistakes and we don't condone anything that he said there but we feel comfortable going forward that he's going to have an opportunity to prove it on and off the field."
The Eagles addressed the issue before selecting Smallwood, so it remains unclear why it took until draft day for his social media scrub. Most of the tweets in question date back to when he was in high school.
"It kind of blew up and I was just embarrassed about it," Smallwood said. "And knowing that's not who I am, seeing all of that stuff, and seeing what people were saying embarrassed me. I ended up taking it down and don't think I'm going to be on it again."
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann