Overlooked? Why Akrum Wadley could emerge as a Heisman candidate in 2017

You could watch the video of Akrum Wadley’s performance against Michigan last November for hours and never enter a state of boredom. Then you’d want to watch it one more time, just because.

That night was Wadley’s coming out party. It was the junior’s 115 rushing yards, an additional 52 receiving yards and touchdown catch that helped Iowa knockout the B1G’s behemoth’s of the East in a 14-13 decision. But the stat sheet didn’t do justice for the running back’s incredible outing.

For most of the night, Wadley’s quick feet eluded Michigan defenders. One of his patented jump-cuts sent Jabrill Peppers, the B1G’s Defensive Player of the Year, heading in another direction. Basically, he made one of the nation’s top defensive units look relatively pedestrian.

Wadley was every bit as good as any other running back in the country that Saturday. It was a Heisman-caliber effort that defined his junior campaign.

But that performance didn’t land Wadley on the early list of Heisman Trophy favorites for 2017. Right now, he’s not really even in the discussion. Somewhere down the road, though, that’s going to change.

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Michigan wasn’t the only defense the New Jersey native eviscerated in 2016. He ended his season with 1,081 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 6.43 yards per carry average – the highest average of any B1G back with 150 carries or more. Wadley racked up 107 yards against Minnesota and gashed Purdue for 175 yards the following week. To close out the regular season, he rushed for 105 yards on just 11 carries against Nebraska.

Again, the numbers aren’t telling the whole story.

In each of those three games, Wadley had a touchdown run of at least 50 yards, using his quick feet to sidestep a sure tackle. Outside of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, there aren’t many other backs in the B1G as good at avoiding defenders as Wadley.

Wadley finished the year with an elusive rating of 136.4 according to Pro Football Focus, a mark that placed him in the top 10 among college running backs. Barkley was the only conference rusher that sported a higher rating.

The Michigan game wasn’t a fluke.

So why isn’t Wadley getting more attention as a Heisman candidate?

Iowa isn’t exactly a hotbed for Heisman talent. The Hawkeyes have had just two players in the conversation since 2000, Brad Banks (2002) and Shonn Greene (2008). And with the relatively bland offensive formula that’s been in place under Kirk Ferentz, skill position guys typically don’t sport the kind of numbers you’d say at Ohio State, Wisconsin or even Penn State.

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Eye-appeal usually doesn’t exist in Iowa City.

But Wadley will have some things working in his favor for the 2017 season.

Running mate LeShun Daniels, Jr. – who also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last fall – has run out of eligibility. Without another experienced ball-carrier on the roster, the backfield that Wadley had to split last season becomes virtually his own. And with C.J. Beathard no longer under center, it’s realistic to believe the Hawkeyes will want to establish an even stronger ground attack.

Sep 10, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley (25) scores a touchdown against the Iowa State Cyclones at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes beat the Cyclones 42-3. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

That should lead to a significant increase in Wadley’s touches.

And the to-be senior will have the benefit of a seasoned offensive line, one that took home the Joe Moore Award. Five players from that unit will return with at least seven starts to their name. And knowing Iowa’s reputation to develop talent in the trenches, there could be some huge holes for Wadley to run through.

As the primary back behind an overpowering offensive line, Wadley’s stats have the potential to skyrocket.

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The B1G hasn’t had a Heisman Trophy winner since 2006 when Ohio State’s Troy Smith took the award. Ron Dayne was the last running back from the conference to claim the honor, taking it home in 1999. Wadley isn’t the favorite to end that streak. And whether you believe his 2016  numbers are good enough to be in the Heisman conversation at the moment, Wadley has demonstrated that he’s got a unique skill-set that only an elite few running backs possess.

Watch the video of Wadley against Michigan. Then watch it some more.

Maybe you’ll start to believe he can work his way into the Heisman conversation, too.

REFERENCES

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

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