The New England Patriots have a tendency to sign an undrafted running back or two for the summer, but it always seems to be a matter of adding camp bodies. When the team has Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, James White, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, and an assortment of proven veteran running backs, I never really expect the rookie signing to make much of an impact.
Maybe Ralph Webb is different- we’ll see over the next couple weeks- but the undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt did a great job putting his quick foot forward.
Webb picked up 46 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries and added a pair of two-point conversions in his first game in the NFL, showing great burst at the line of scrimmage and the ability to use his 5’9, 200-pound frame to drag the pile of defenders in addition to some upside as a receiver.
“I think that’s pretty much what we’ve seen from Ralph all the way through,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “That’s what he was like at Vanderbilt. He ran hard. He was tough. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got good strength for his size and he runs hard. He got hit a lot down there. He showed us that in the spring and in training camp. He’s a tough kid that runs with good pad level, he’s got good speed, he catches the ball well.”
Belichick has long had his eyes on Webb, who played at Vanderbilt from 2014-17. The Patriots would often scout the Commodore offensive linemen and even signed Andrew Jelks- who since retired due to injuries. But if Belichick and company were scouting the offensive line, it’d be hard to ignore the running back producing behind them.
Webb was the starting running back all four seasons in the mighty SEC and was supremely productive against the competition, leading his team in yards from scrimmage every year and never missing a single game (49 straight!). He gained 4,178 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns over the four years, in addition to 572 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns.
Those 4,750 yards from scrimmage ranked second in the SEC over that time, and for emphasis he was Vanderbilt’s entire offense all four years so teams sold out to stop him.
Only three other players gained more 4,000 yards from scrimmage over that span: Georgia running back Nick Chubb (5,130 yards from scrimmage and 48 touchdowns), LSU running back Leonard Fournette (4,356 yards from scrimmage and 42 touchdowns), and Georgia running back Sony Michel (4,234 yards from scrimmage and 39 touchdowns). Those players went 35th overall in 2018, 4th overall in 2017, and 31st overall to the Patriots in 2018, respectively.
Webb actually ranks sixth in SEC history in rushing yards, trailing Herschel Walker, Chubb, Darren McFadden, Kevin Faulk, and Bo Freaking Jackson; he also ranks seventh in SEC history in yards from scrimmage.
And somehow Webb went undrafted.
It’s not like Webb was purely a workhorse without athleticism, either. While he wasn’t invited to the combine (his only post-season distinction was a Second Team All-SEC nod in 2016), he had an impressive Pro Day.
Webb threw up an incredible 27 reps on the bench to show his strength and a 4.15s shuttle time to show his change of direction ability, both of which would have ranked 3rd at the NFL Combine. And he ran an impressive 4.48s 40 yard dash, which would have ranked 5th at the NFL Combine.
He had a 10’2 broad jump (t-5th at the combine) and 36-inch vertical (t-8th) to show off his burst, and capped his drills with a 7.13s three cone drill (t-11th).
Again, why the heck was this guy not drafted?
“I’m just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to come out here and play,” Webb said after the game. “A lot of people can’t come out here and do the things that we do. I’m just happy to have a team win. I’m just making the most of whatever opportunities I get. Just trying to do everything the coaches coach me up to do and do it to the best of my ability.”
The NFL Draft scouting report said that Webb was a “below average athlete” and that he “doesn’t have NFL play speed.” Bleacher Report said Webb “doesn’t have the traits we look for in a pro” and is a “camp body” (which was my assumption, too). Few other places even bothered evaluating Webb because he was so far down their list of prospects.
Perhaps we should turn our eyes to this Last Word on Pro Football scouting report that notes that Webb “will be a steal and a star for any team willing to take a chance on him.”
Webb is competing with Rex Burkhead, James White, first round pick Sony Michel, special teams ace Brandon Bolden, and veterans Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee for a roster spot that quite frankly might not exist. But Webb is doing everything in his power to make the decision as difficult as possible for the Patriots staff.
“When you see a guy like that who you know is an undrafted guy who is getting those opportunities, it’s great to see him take advantage of it because you never know how many of those you’re going to get, and I can definitely relate to that, totally,” Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer said about Webb after the game. “That’s what the preseason is for is for guys like that to get those opportunities and see what they can make of them, and Ralph did a good job tonight.”
Hill also took advantage of his opportunities and made a strong case to win that final roster spot, but the Patriots would love to have Webb on their practice squad- or maybe they’ll be forced to stash him on the active roster with a red-shirt year the same way they’ve held players like Cole Croston and D.J. Foster in the past.
But even if Webb doesn’t stick with the Patriots, he’ll be putting together some great tape for a different team to give him a chance to play.
“It’s a dream come true,” Webb said after the game. “I’ve been working my whole life for this, to come out here and get a chance to compete. I’m just happy and I’m blessed to be able to be here and say that I did it.”