The 2012 draft class is loaded with potential at the running back position. In fact, this is probably the deepest group of backs since Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Matt Forte entered the league in 2008.
That's saying a lot.
Right in the middle of the pack is David Wilson, an extremely talented but raw running back with as much upside as any running back in the draft.
This article is going to focus on eight factors that lead me to believe that Wilson will be an ideal featured back in the National Football League.
One extremely underrated but important criteria for a successful NFL back is the ability to move the pile and go for positive yards after initial contact or when a play has broke down, and David Wilson's superior lower body strength gives him this ability.
You will see him be able to utilize that strength to break tackles between the hashes and in some circumstances plow over defenders.
Matt Miller had the following to say about Wilson earlier in the offseason.
He is a stronger runner than what his size would indicate. He has strong legs that he keeps churning throughout the run. He broke 140 tackles this season and gained close to 1,000 yards after contact. That shows he has the strength and balance to finish runs.
He reminds me a great deal of Frank Gore and Matt Forte in this aspect of his game. His lower body strength will certainly help Wilson stand out in the draft.
This is something else I noted when watching tape of David Wilson. He doesn't struggle to get off to good starts in games like some of the top running backs in the NFL do.
Instead, Wilson is just as good early on as he is later in the game. He also doesn't wear down as the game progresses.
He ran the ball 20 or more times in 10 of Virginia Tech's 12 games last season. In those 10 games Wilson accumulated over 100 yards seven times. This pretty much means that he will get you the yardage if you give him the rock.
It might not have shown a great deal in college, but David Wilson is going to be a receiving threat at the next level. He possesses soft hands and has great field vision after catching the ball.
This is an aspect of his game that might be underrated. It is also something that the best running backs in the NFL possess—just take a look at the aforementioned Matt Forte as well as Ray Rice.
I could care less that Wilson caught only 22 passes in 2011, as there are a lot of misleading factors that go into that number.
First, Virginia Tech's offense didn't rely on screens out of the backfield. Second, the quarterback must be accurate on the short routes, which wasn't the case with the Hokies last season.
Put Wilson in there as a full time back for all 16 games of a NFL season and he will easily rack up 60 receptions.
It is fine and dandy to be a downhill runner—that's how some of the best running backs in the NFL earn their keep. However, there are other important attributes for a back, and one of those aspects is cutback ability.
David Wilson is able to make cuts at full speed, consistently causing defenders to fall off their mark when tackling. He has the ability to stop on a dime, change direction and continue with that second gear in relatively short order.
This is what separates average backs from elite ones. In my opinion Wilson has the "it" factor when it comes to cutback ability and change of direction.
Most young running backs tend to struggle hitting the line of scrimmage quickly. Instead, they tend to dance in the offensive backfield and hit their hole tentatively. This might not be a major issue in college football, but you can rest assured that this doesn't fly in the NFL.
Luckily, David Wilson doesn't have this problem.
He hits the hole quick and strong, not wasting any time attempting to draw out defenders in the backfield. He will pile past the line of scrimmage at full speed, effectively limiting his negative carries.
Think about it this way: A three yard carry on first down is absolutely huge in comparison to a three yard loss. This sets the offense up with a manageable distance to go later in the series of downs.
While David Wilson wasn't asked to remain in the backfield and pass protect a lot at Virginia Tech, he usually came up aces when tasked with a blocking assignment.
This is another area that young running backs tend to struggle with, and one that cannot be disregarded.
Running backs tend to be the last tier of protection for a quarterback when they are asked to block so if they miss, the quarterback is likely to find himself on his back.
To understand the importance of this just look at how Steve Young saw his career end: Lawrence Phillips whiffed on a block and the future Hall of Fame quarterback was drilled in the offensive backfield. Career over.
Wilson isn't going to struggle with this early.
Lets face it. You either have the speed or you don't. It isn't something that can be taught or learned with some seasoning.
A home-run hitter at the running back position can change the entire landscape of a football game. If he is able to break off an 80 yard run it doesn't just give the offense seven points, it forces the defense to change their game plan for the remainder of the game.
The passing attack is opened up a great deal when the defense throws an extra body or two into the box, creating single coverage and mismatch issues on the outside.
Wilson consistently broke off long runs at Virginia Tech and will continue to do so in the NFL.
Along the same lines as the previous slide, you cannot be a game-breaker at running back if you don't have top of the line speed.
Not only did Wilson run a 4.49 40-yard dash, he dazzled in other generic drills at the combine in Indianapolis. The Virginia Tech product was solid in the 20 and 60 yard shuttles as well.
This doesn't mean much unless that speed can be translated to the field on Sundays—possessing track star speed is much different than having football speed.
Wilson actually runs faster in games than what we saw at the combine and during other offseason events over the course of the last four months.
And that is saying something.