Of the two running backs the Colts selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, Nyheim Hines is commanding the most attention. This is no surprise as he ran the fastest 40-yard dash among the running backs at the NFL Combine, has played full time as a slot receiver, and he offers tremendous versatility as a play-maker with the ball in his hands. A player that was overlooked heading into the draft process is Ole Miss back Jordan Wilkins.
A lot of things led to Wilkins not getting a great deal of attention. One of those items is that he missed all of the 2016 season due to academic probation that was at least partially the result of an administrative issue. Anytime a young prospect misses an entire season, he misses a chance to highlight his talents and severely limits his collegiate production. Another item that hurt Wilkins is that Ole Miss was not bowl game eligible in 2017, leaving him with a shortened season and without the opportunity to get back up on a national stage as his college career was coming to an end.
What any fan needs to know about Wilkins is that he rushed for over 1000 yards as a senior, has limited mileage due to his abbreviated collegiate experience, and that he also caught 26 passes out of the backfield. He is a bigger option than Hines at 6’1”, 216 lbs. and is far more comfortable running inside the tackles than Hines or Mack are at this point in their careers. Projecting him to be a stud NFL running back is certainly a stretch but there are things to like about his game that could make for a better transition than his draft status might suggest.
Red Cup Rebellion, SB Nation’s Ole Miss blog, had the following to say about Wilkins:
Rebel fans will remember Wilkins for his tough running style, rarely willing to dodge contact and sometimes dishing out more punishment than was taken.
What really pops on film for Wilkins is that he is patient to allow blocks to happen in front of him and to allow lanes to open. He has excellent vision and doesn’t waste a lot of motion. While some back are prone to getting happy feet in the backfield and will approach the line before a block develops, Wilkins has what I would call a hitch after the hand-off. He takes a split second to gather himself and then burst toward the hole.
He is deceptively fast once he gets going and because he runs fluidly and without a great deal of wasted motion, he can look slow (he isn’t, he ran a 4.5 40 yard dash at his Pro Day). His side-to-side juking ability is impressive and makes it difficult for defenders to get a good read on him in the open field. It is his vision and patience though that remind me a bit of Edgerrin James — specifically post knee-injury Edgerrin James. He gets the most out of each block and helps setup defenders in a way that will help him gain extra yards.
What might be the biggest limitation for Wilkins is how Frank Reich intends to run the offense. If he prefers to have a lateral attack in the backfield forcing defenders to cover the field sideline-to-sideline, thinning out the ability to double-team and blanket coverage vertically, both Hines and Mack will be heavily featured. The are both speedy options with the ability to get the edges and force the defense to flatten out. If Robert Turbin is completely health, Reich may choose to use him in 3rd down and short-yardage situations — especially considering that he has been one of, if not the, best in the NFL over the last two years in this role.
What role will that leave for Wilkins? The answer may be a rotational depth role and it very well may be a spot on the practice squad for his rookie season. However, do not be surprised if Chris Ballard and Frank Reich see him as a developmental prospect who, with professional strength and conditioning and coaching, could have a more dynamic role as a traditional inside the tackle runner moving forward.
Checks the height, weight, and speed boxes
Hips swivel freely and is very agile
Able to access any side door he needs to for quick escapes
Plays with slasher qualities
Saw over 10 percent of his runs in 2017 go for 15-plus yards
Has sudden, one-cut ability with the juice to launch himself through line of scrimmage and into the open field
Feet are light and nimble
Runs with knee bend and good pad level
Excellent footwork in tight quarters
Has balance and vision to navigate fluid run lanes
Glides behind lead blockers allowing them to do their work
Wiggle makes him dangerous in space
Not much tread off his tires as a runner
Averaged 7.1 yards per carry against SEC competition including 101 against Alabama