2014 NFL Draft “First Look”: James Wilder, RB, Florida St.

The running back position has seen its value on draft day questioned over the last several years.  With RBBC becoming the mainstream trend in the NFL, the days of the highly valued feature back seem to be reserved for a select few (see Adrian Peterson, Vikings.)

That said, there’s no denying the value that an elite running back can have for an offense.

James Wilder, Jr. enters the 2013 college football season as a player on the rise.  His carries went from 35 in 2011 to 165 last year, with his YPC seeing a similar jump (4.6 in ’11 to 5.8 in ’12).  This year, Wilder is expected to share the running back duties with talented teammate Devonta Freeman, but I expect #32 to ultimately be the impact player in the Florida State running game.

Wilder began his career at Florida State as one of the most highly touted high school recruits in the nation.  He was considered a 5-star prospect after he completed a career at linebacker and running back at Tampa Plant High School.  The son of former NFL running back James Wilder, Sr., this Seminole has experienced what life as an NFL running back is like from an early age.

The elder Wilder had a successful career in the NFL after being selected by the Tampa Buccaneers in the 2nd round of the 1981 NFL Draft. He was a pro bowl selection after the 1984 season, and set the then-record for carries in a season (407).

Bloodlines are always important in an evaluation.

Unfortunately, Wilder, Jr. has had some concerning legal troubles.  He was arrested three times last year.  I’m not too concerned about the issue, however, since none of the arrests involved any kind of violent or dangerous behavior.  From all available resources I could access, Wilder appears to be a good guy that shouldn’t project as a “character concern.”

Below is the “First Look” for James Wilder, Jr., RB, Florida State:

James Wilder, RB, FSU
6'2", 226 lbs
40 yd: 4.55 (est)
Physical MakeupJames Wilder presents as a prospect with plus size for the RB position. At 6'2" and 226 lbs, he possesses the kind of frame and body mass needed to handle an NFL featured back workload. My biggest concern with Wilder is his tendency to run high in the open-field, leaving his lower half susceptible to dangerous hits to the knees. That said, Wilder has reportedly added more weight this offseason and if he becomes more aware of his pad level in the open field, his durability and lack of any major injury history projects him as a prospect who is a low-level injury risk.
Run InstinctsWilder is a natural runner who is patient and lets his blocks develop in front of him. He does a nice job of bouncing to the outside when the inside running lanes aren't there. He has deceptively quick feet and good overall burst to make any run inside of 40 yards.
ElusivenessWhile not the most elusive RB in the country, Wilder is a player that is always moving forward and a nightmare to bring to the ground. He uses a violent stiff arm to keep defenders away from his body and has just enough wiggle to compliment his plus feet. He's more of a physical, pounding runner that is going to gain his yards by punishing his opponent. That said, Wilder has some of the best balance that I've ever seen at the RB position. What he lacks in wiggle, he makes up for in rare, rare athletic ability.
Cutback AbilityWilder is a one-cut runner that gets upfield in a hurry. Once he diagnoses the hole, he sticks his foot in the dirt and heads upfield. He has good vision in the open field and maximizes his cutback lanes through a combination of his quick feet and powerful burst.
Inside RunningWilder is a tough runner, but he needs to work on his pad level to maximize yardage gained when running inside. He averaged nearly 6 ypc last year, but he could've done more. There were more than a few runs on his tape where he was too upright when getting to the LOS. He's so much stronger and physically better than most players he faces, and if he lowers his pads a bit, he'll win just about every contest upon contact.
Outside RunningWilder has the ability to bounce the ball outside with consistent success. His efficient and powerful stride allows for him to turn the corner and gain yards in chunks. He isn't a HR-hitter and shouldn't be expected to have many long TD runs. But he certainly has enough juice in his legs to get to the edge and head upfield.
ReceivingWilder isn't the cleanest catcher of the football, but he runs nice, crisp routes out of the backfield and generally does a good job securing the catch.
Adjusts to BallInc.
Run After CatchOnce Wilder has the ball in his hands, he gains positive yards. On several occasions, Wilder was able to secure the reception and make a big play after the catch. He's a mismatch in the open-field vs. smaller defenders (power).
Pass BlockingWilder will have to become a more consistent in pass protection, but he won't be prospect that is considered a liability in this area of his game. As a former LB in high school, Wilder is not afraid of contact and welcomes oncoming blitzers with a jolt. At times, he can whiff and leave his QB in a vulnerable position.
DurabilityWilder has had no major injuries, but is nursing a rib injury suffered in Spring ball. He hasn't had a ton of carries at FSU, so his body is fresh. A plus as he moves forward as an NFL prospect.
ErrorsWilder needs to be careful when running in the open field. He tends to run high and at times he doesn't secure the football to his body.
OverallThis time last year, I broke down Tavon Austin's game. I found him to be a "special" athlete, and a rare prospect. His draft stock settled as a top-10 selection. While a complete contrast in style to Tavon Austin, James Wilder is an equally rare athlete. He possesses a combination of good enough speed, quick feet, plus vision, rare balance and a violent approach to running the football. As the son of a former NFL pro bowl running back, Wilder was one of the most highly touted high school recruits in the country. And it shows on film. His best football is ahead of him, and there's no doubt in my mind that he is the top RB in the 2014 NFL Draft class. In fact, there's not much separating Wilder's rare traits from the likes of players like Trent Richardson. While I don't think we'll see Wilder's stock settle as a top-10 pick, it would come as no surprise to me if James Wilder is a first round pick and the first RB selected next May. He enters the season with a secure, solid first round grade and likely will be a top-10 overall player on FRG Scouting's board.

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