As we’ve done in previous offseasons, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2019 offseason. We’ll focus this on the players who weren’t on the team’s practice squad last year, the mostly unknown players that fans don’t know much about.
Checking out running back Ralph Webb in today’s edition.
Ralph Webb/RB Vanderbilt – 5’9/2 202
Webb doesn’t quite fall in the same category of the other players we’ve covered. He was with the team during the regular season, signed December 4th to the practice squad. That move came with James Conner down due to an ankle sprain, causing the team to promote Trey Edmunds to the 53. Even in Conner’s return, Edmunds remained on the 53 and Webb was able to stick around. Now, he’ll look to survive the offseason.
Like almost every player who even sniffs the NFL stage, Webb began his football career as a force at the high school level. Growing up in Gainesville, Florida and attending a school carrying the same name, he helped lead his school to their first title in more than 30 years. As a senior, he rushed for over 2000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He made plays like these, ones where you just know he’s on a different level than anyone else on the field.
Webb was also a standout in track and field, winning titles in the long jump. All that led him to Vandy, joining a team that had dug itself out of the gutter and coming off their first nine win season since the Woodrow Wilson administration.
Redshirting in 2013, he burst onto the SEC scene the next year. He sent a school record with 907 yards as a freshman. Webb’s first 100 yard game came in a nail-biting win over UMass with him scoring the game-winner in the waning minutes.
There were similar results in 2014, notching his first 1000 yard season as he became the workhorse of the team, touching the ball over 300 times. He ran circles around Florida and put the team on his back to beat Kentucky, a 33 carry outing.
About the only thing missing from his resume was the end zone. Through his first two seasons, he scored just nine rushing touchdowns. Webb solved that problem by his junior year, scoring 13 times and then ten more his senior season, even as his carries dropped. For his career, he finished with over 4100 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns, both team records.
He made up for a Combine snub with a strong Pro Day workout. He ran a 4.49, jumped 36 inches in the vert, and 10’2″ in the broad, calling back to his track and field days. Scouting reports from analysts though were far less kind.
“Below average athlete who is unable to shake defenders or break tackles at an acceptable rate to create for himself in the NFL. Webb runs with tight hips and duck feet and doesn’t have NFL play speed. He’ll get into camp and work his tail off, but he may not have the play qualities necessary to overcome his physical deficiencies.”
Undrafted in this past year’s draft, he signed with the New England Patriots a week after the draft ended. He stuck with them through the preseason, finding the end zone twice against Washington. His performances caught Bill Belichick’s eye, who dished out rare praise for a UDFA. Here’s what he said.
“I think that’s pretty much what we’ve seen from Ralph all the way through,” Belichick said. “It’s what he was like at Vanderbilt: he ran hard, he’s tough. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s got good strength for his size and he runs hard. “… He’s a tough kid, runs with good pad level. He’s got good speed, catches the ball well. Made a nice catch on the two-point play. It was a low ball, made a good adjustment on the catch and got it in.”
New England signed him to the practice squad after final roster cuts but had to release him in early October. He spent a month on the street until Tampa Bay scooped him up for three weeks. The day after the Bucs cut him, Pittsburgh came calling.
The Steelers like their backs on the bigger/squatter side and though Webb isn’t going to be confused with James Conner, his run demeanor seems similar. He wants to get downhill, run hard, and isn’t going to hurt himself by making mistakes and dancing around for the 50 yard gain that’ll never come. And there is likely to be an open seat for the #3 spot in the backfield during camp.
Still, the odds are against him. He’ll always be a hero back at Vanderbilt. Just don’t count on Pittsburgh ending up as fond of him.