Wendell Smallwood grew up an Eagles fan 30 minutes away from the stadium, in Wilmington, idolizing Duce Staley. But on the day Smallwood, a running back from West Virginia, was drafted by his favorite team to be coached by his favorite player, the Eagles also needed to answer for concerns about Smallwood's character.
Before Howie Roseman gushed about the Big 12's reigning rushing leader, he first explained that the Eagles "feel this is a good kid" whom they are "very comfortable bringing in here."
In 2014, Smallwood was charged with witness intimidation related to a 2012 murder case. The charges were dropped after someone confessed to the murder, and Smallwood was cleared of any involvement.
Charges "weren't dropped just because of the guilty plea, they ended up having no evidence against me," Smallwood said. "A witness never came forward and said I intimidated anyone or anything like that. It ultimately came down to them finding out that I was innocent and I never did anything wrong in the situation. Just being friends with the wrong guys."
Smallwood's friend, Zakee Lloyd, was the one investigated for murder, and Lloyd eventually confessed.
Smallwood also had vulgar tweets about Philadelphia that were uncovered. He deleted his Twitter account after he was drafted Saturday and said they were foolish Tweets from 2011 that he forgot he made. Roseman said the Eagles do not condone the tweets, but investigated the situation, spent time with Smallwood, and "have no doubts about what kind of player and person he is."
"That's not the kind of person I am," Smallwood said. "Hopefully, I get to show that through these years."
If the off-field problems are not a concern, the Eagles might have landed a player who can join Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles in a position that needs young talent. Smallwood is the first running back the Eagles have drafted since Bryce Brown, and he has a chance to contribute as a reserve in the backfield.
"He's a tremendous running back, someone that I liked and was hoping to get," coach Doug Pederson said. "He's a guy that's going to have to come in and learn the position - obviously going to be in a backup situation going in - but with his skill set, I think there's an opportunity for him. I'm not going to count anything out, because we obviously had some young backs in Kansas City that did a nice job for us."
Smallwood rushed for 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior for the Mountaineers before declaring for the draft. He was tied with Alabama Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry and LSU star Leonard Fournette with the most rushes of 10-plus yards last season. The 5-foot-10, 208-pound rusher also has shown the ability to catch the ball and pass-protect.
"When you look at his numbers this year and you watch the tape, it's doubles all the time," Roseman said, alluding to an extra-base hit in baseball. "It's play after play, and he runs with determination. You see the speed on tape, and you see it in the testing."
The Eagles took Smallwood after a run of running backs in the fifth round. It was a position they needed to address, and Smallwood was far from one of the most heralded rushers in the draft. But the Eagles are hoping they found a gem just down I-95, and Smallwood must validate the Eagles' confidence in him as a player and as a person.
"It feels great to be here," Smallwood said. "A fan of the Eagles all my life and watching since I was young, it's a dream come true."
The Eagles drafted TCU offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai with their second fifth-round pick. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle "has all the tools," Roseman said, and "needs to be more consistent." Nicknamed "Big V," Vaitai fits the profile of a big, athletic tackle for the Eagles to develop.
The Eagles traded back in the sixth round to take Auburn defensive back Blake Countess, a Michigan transfer who can play cornerback, nickel, and safety, and also contribute on special teams.