It wasn’t that long ago when a lot of people were counting Wendell Smallwood out.
They had seen enough of the former fifth-round pick. He wasn’t good enough. He couldn’t stay healthy. He didn't deserve a roster spot. It was time to move on.
This week, Smallwood said he heard all of that:
It kind of bothered me, but at the same time, I just put my head down and went to work. Whatever you say, whatever you write or whatever people got to say, it doesn’t write my story. What I go out there and do on the field, that’s what writes my story. You can say a million things or I can say I’m the best guy.
I gotta go out there and show it every week, whether someone’s talking good or bad about me. They could say good things about me and I could go out there and do bad. I just put my head down and went to work every day and I believe the coaches saw that and they saw that drive in me. I had something to prove coming into this camp, coming into this season. Period. So I just put my head down and went to work and ignored and tuned everything out. And it’s just amazing how things could change.
People don’t expect it, but the whole time I expected it. I knew what I had to do. It just surprised some people. But to the people that believed in me, who had confidence in me, it’s not a surprise at all. I’m just doing what they knew I could do.
For a long time, there was a good chance Smallwood wasn’t even going to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster out of training camp. The Eagles wanted to keep a fourth back and for a long time, it looked like Smallwood wouldn’t make the cut.
But eventually, he beat out guys like Matt Jones, Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams to make the roster.
And thanks to injuries, he’s playing a big role for the Eagles right now.
Amazingly, Smallwood has played more offensive snaps (163) than any other Eagles running back this season. More than Jay Ajayi. More than Darren Sproles. More than Corey Clement.
Of course, most of that is thanks to injury. It’s a little ironic. Smallwood’s career has been littered with injuries of his own, but he’s been the only Eagles’ running back to stay healthy this year. His health helped him with a roster spot and now it’s helping him get on the field and make plays.
“He started off last season, had a role, and then he got banged up and he wasn't ever really able to fit back into that role,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “Whether he ever felt 100 percent after that [injury], I don't know. But he's been very consistent in his performance and very diligent with his preparation in all areas, whether it be running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield and protecting the quarterback. Wendell has done a good job.”
On 43 attempts this season, Smallwood has 201 yards and a touchdown. His 4.7 yards per carry average is the highest among running backs on the team. His yards per carry average is tied for 15th in the league, which isn’t top-tier, but it’s pretty impressive for a guy who wasn’t supposed to be on the roster.
Before this season, Smallwood noticed people labeling him as “injury-prone” and he really emphasized taking care of his body this past offseason. Too many times before, he lost out on opportunities because he couldn’t stay healthy.
“You gotta play like every game is your last; it can be taken from you,” Smallwood said. “I think the fact that it’s been taken from me before, it means so much more to me. It defines how I play.”
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