New Faces 2020: RB Wendell Smallwood

There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.

The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.

The Steelers have already brought in two new players since training camp has opened, both of them of veteran status, even while they have spent time trimming their roster from 90 players down to 80. They have done so in order tot comply with the new CBA protocols, which for 2020 amid the pandemic require rosters of greater than 80 players to function in a split-squad format.

The running back position was one that the Steelers decided that they would try to boost with a veteran presence, signing Wendell Smallwood, originally to take the roster spot of first-year Arrion Springs, a defensive back whom they placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list. He has since been released. Ralph Webb, a running back, was later released to cut the roster down to 80 players.

Smallwood, 26, is entering his fifth NFL season since originally being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played three seasons, winning a Super Bowl in the process. He spent the 2019 season with the Washington Football Team.

In three years with the Eagles, he recorded 211 rushing attempts for 850 yards, scoring five touchdowns, while constantly sharing duties in a crowded backfield that also included Ryan Matthew, Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Josh Adams at different times during his tenure.

Smallwood failed to make Philadelphia’s 53-man roster a year ago, however, and Washington claimed him off waivers. In his lone season in D.C., he recorded 81 rushing yards on 22 attempts, without scoring. In his career, he has caught 56 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns.

His contract having expired in March, however, the West Virginia product remained unsigned throughout the entire offseason, made much more difficult due to the pandemic, without the opportunity to come in and work out for teams.

The Steelers finally signed him on July 28, and he now enters a crowded backfield including James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Anthony McFarland, and Kerrith Whyte, looking to make his third different team in as many years. He has a chance, especially since he plays special teams, but it won’t be easy. Failing that, he could potentially be kept on the practice squad as experienced depth in the case of an emergency.

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