Week one of the preseason is officially in the books, and already an undrafted free agent has made his case for the opening day roster. Ralph Webb was one of the best players on the field in the New England Patriots season opener, rushing for 46 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Additionally, the young running back converted two separate two-point conversions in the Patriots 26-17 victory.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the Patriots have been down this road with an undrafted free agent. Players like Zach Sudfeld, Austin Carr, Brian Tyms, and countless others have been preseason stars who fizzled during the regular season. Then again, the Patriots have had undrafted stars like Malcolm Butler build their careers with a strong training camp. So, is Webb more like Butler or Sudfeld? Let’s take a look at what the tape says, and find out if this performance was legit or just a flash in the pan.
Webb spent four years at Vanderbilt University, seeing considerable snaps in each one of his seasons with the Commodores. Vanderbilt has struggled in recent seasons, as the school went a combined 18-31 over Webb’s tenure. However, despite the ugly record, Webb was a great running back during his collegiate tenure.
His collegiate career peaked his Junior year when he ran for 1,283 yards and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. These stats include the 2016 Independence Bowl, a game in which Webb ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns. While Vanderbilt got crushed, 41-17, Webb still accounted for almost 40% of the Commodores offensive yardage. Put simply, he was the best player on quite a few terrible teams, which may have caused him to be overlooked in the NFL Draft.
All in all, Webb finished his college career as Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher, a mark he actually earned in his Junior year. He’s incredibly durable, playing in 41 straight games while at Vanderbilt. Now we must ask, how legit are statistics? Was his performance a product of skill, or a product of Vanderbilt having no better option on offense? In order to answer that, let’s break down his measurables and some of his film.
Ralph Webb – A Deeper Look
Draft profiles around the league claimed that Webb lacked elite athleticism. However, those scouting reports are wrong. Based on his Pro Day alone, Ralph Webb showed that he’s an NFL-caliber athlete.
His most impressive feat came on the bench press, when he recorded a whopping 27 reps. He also added a 36-inch vertical jump, 10’-2” broad jump, 4.48 40-yard dash, and a 4.15-second 20-yard shuttle. These numbers, astonishing enough, match up pretty well to second overall pick and athletic freak Saquon Barkley. At the NFL combine, Barkley recorded 29 reps on the bench press, and 4.4-second 40-yard dash, 41.0” vertical jump, and a 4.24 20-yard shuttle.
Outside of the vertical jump, Webb is in the same ballpark as the second-overall pick in football. In the case of the shuttle, Webb is actually better than Barkley. Ralph Webb is not going to be as good as Saquon Barkley, but the fact their athletic measurements are close speaks to Webb’s athletic prowess
The tape also shows Webb to be a capable runner. You don’t shatter Vanderbilt’s rushing record without a little bit of skill, and Webb certainly has skills. He’s a strong, physical runner who won’t necessarily beat you with speed, but possesses solid quickness and change of direction. He takes a while to reach his full speed, but he has fantastic vision and is patient enough to wait for holes to open up in the running game.
Last Word on Ralph Webb
Quite frankly, it’s hard to see how Ralph Webb went undrafted. He had a prolific career at Vanderbilt, was extremely durable, and showed next-level patience when running the ball. He’s a little undersized, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from using Dion Lewis as the feature back in 2017.
All signs point towards Webb’s early success being legit. While he may not start too many times early in his career, Webb certainly has the ability to crack the teams crowded running back depth chart. After that, Webb will need to wait for his chance to shine. Once he gets on the field, expect him to continue to make a case as to why he deserves to stay there.
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