MOBILE, Ala. – The three running backs on the South team at the Senior Bowl huddled for encouragement after Tuesday’s practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, but it might have been more convenient if the confab took place at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway. That’s because two of those running backs were from South Jersey – making up one-third of the six running backs in Saturday’s all-star game.
Temple’s Ryquell Armstead is from Millville, where he played for Millville High before becoming a key player for Temple. Wes Hills is from Wildwood, attending Wildwood High before becoming a lead rusher at Delaware and eventually finishing his college career at Slippery Rock. Both have opportunities to raise their draft stock this week.
- Upon further review, should there be more review? The NFL ponders change in wake of Rams-Saints ending.
- For David Sills V, once a quarterback prodigy and now a receiver, route to NFL started with an Eagles encounter
- While Khalen Saunders delivers at Senior Bowl practice, his fiancee delivers their daughter
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and a former scout with Seattle and three other NFL teams, said running back is a hard position to find for the game because most of the top running backs in the draft leave early for the NFL and don’t qualify for the Senior Bowl.
Neither Armstead nor Hills will make a push near the top of the draft analysts' rankings, but running back is a position where contributors are often overlooked. Three of the top 10 rookie running backs this season went undrafted, including Denver Pro Bowler Phillip Lindsay and the Eagles’ leading rusher, Josh Adams. The last South Jersey running back to enter the NFL was also undrafted: Glassboro’s Corey Clement, who was a key part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run.
Of course, both Armstead and Hills hope to get drafted. This week is critical in their evaluations.
Armstead rushed for 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns this season before missing the Independence Bowl while recovering from an ankle injury. Armstead said his ankle is now healthy, and he’s determined to show the NFL scouts, coaches, and executives a more well-rounded repertoire.
“I’m hoping I can show these guys I can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Armstead said after catching only eight passes this season.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Armstead already proved at Temple he can be a downhill runner capable of the big play. (He even helped on defense; in a win over Tulsa, Armstead became the third Division-I player since 2000 to tally 100 rushing yards and a sack in the same game.) And he’s proud to have the Millville name attached to him – he called hailing from Millville as his “brand” – an association in recent years most linked to baseball star Mike Trout.
“When people talk about me,” Armstead said, “they’re going to talk about Millville.”
Hills might be less known in the Philadelphia area – and even in college football – but he’s firmly on the NFL radar. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Hills scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 6.5 yards per carry during an injury-plagued career at Delaware, and he excelled against lower competition at Slippery Rock, where he rushed for a school-record 1,714 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He was named MVP at last week’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and secured a late invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he’s determined to show that his level of college competition shouldn’t be held against him.
“One, I can play with the best of the best and perform the same way,” Hills said. “And two, that I’m the best back in the draft. A lot of people call me a sleeper, but I’m just trying to get my name out there, to try everything I can to show I can play with the best.”