Chris "Beanie" Wells was one of the Big Ten's premier halfbacks. A power runner, he bulldozed through defenses and wore them down. Wells has talent. No doubt about that. But his detractors want to know if can he elude his injury demons, diversify his game, and succeed in the NFL?
Doubters of the rookie Arizona running back have a laundry list of issues with him. Let's take a look at them. First and foremost, they cite durability. Some even imply Wells is soft and can't differentiate pain from injury. (Ouch! Low blow.)
Perhaps the issue is overemphasized. During his collegiate career at The Ohio State University, Beanie and injury were constant companions. But he played his entire sophomore season with an ankle sprain and wrist injury. He only missed three full games in his junior year with a foot injury and turf toe.
Besides prior injury issues do not necessarily carry over to a player's professional career. Minnesota Viking star running back Adrian Peterson is a perfect example. He dealt with injury problems from high school through college; he's been solid so far in the NFL.
Murphy's Law kicked in during Wells' first day at training camp lending credence to the durability talk. The running back injured his ankle during practice. "I'm definitely disappointed about it," he said. "I've been going through the injury thing quite a while now."
Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt wants to get his running back integrated into the offense but didn't seem overly worried. " Unfortunately for Beanie, he's a rookie and it would have been nice to get him some reps," he said, "but we still have plenty of time to do that."
Another criticism of Wells is lack of versatility. His detractors point to his average hands and speed to support their claim. It's true that Wells isn't a natural receiver. The many double-clutches when he catches the football is evidence of that.
But to be fair, the Buckeye offense didn't allow him many opportunities to develop his receiving skills. Roles were clearly defined at OSU—receivers caught the ball and halfbacks rushed it. At this point, what he might be capable of is unknown.
Knowshon Moreno is generally accepted as a great draft pick for the Broncos at number 12 in the first round. His unofficial 4.63 in the 40 was slower than Wells' 4.59. Despite their times, both backs make it happen on the football field.
In assessing Wells' speed, NFL Network's Mike Mayock said, "With Beanie Wells, there's explosion. He has lower body explosion, but he isn't going to run away from a corner that runs 4.3. What he will do is run over that corner."
Draft analyst Rob Rang of nfldraftscout.com feels that Wells "is fast and he's elusive and he can break away from guys who are 30 pounds lighter than him." He said a check of the record books reveals "not every top back had top-end speed."
Other criticisms of Wells involve his competitiveness and mental focus. His work ethic is also attacked.
As stated above, he played his sophomore year at OSU hurt. But he managed to amass an impressive 1,609 straight-at-the-defense yards rushing. He missed three games the next season and still rushed for over 1,000 yards.
If that's not an aggressive, all-in effort, what is?
His former Buckeye teammates said he was a competitive player on the field and a hard worker in the training room. They said he could out bench and out squat some of the team's linemen.
Doubters say his sloppy routes and poor pass protection blocking are due to Wells' lack of mental focus. Again, these are lack of experience issues. Arizona didn't draft Beanie for his receiving skills. They have Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and others.
Most players come out of college as lumps of clay handicapped by the schemes run by their respective programs. The Cardinals will mold Wells into the threat they envision him to be.
Arizona drafted a back that possesses a unique blend of size, power, and acceleration. Wells can develop the missing elements to his game. But for now, he will add a ground attack to the Cardinal potent aerial attack.
This latest injury suffered at training camp is just another obstacle to overcome. It's not the proof that Wells can't be a feature back in the NFL.
Finally, an assessment from Wells himself. "I'm a competitor," he said, "I can go out there at 235 [pounds] and I can run with the little guys. I can run with the best of them."