Why Undrafted?: James Wilder Jr.

Why Undrafted?: James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State
By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

There was a fierce recruiting battle in Tampa, Florida for Wilder a few years ago. He started out with a commitment to Florida but flipped to rival Florida State when Urban Meyer left the Gators program. Being the son of one of the top running backs in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, Wilder went to the Seminoles with a lot of hype.

Wilder never lived up to those expectations at Florida State. He was a rotational back for the Seminoles. Wilder was expected to lead their rushing attack in 2013, but Devonta Freeman and Karlos Williams proved to be the more effective backs. Still, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Wilder showed good power as a runner and averaged seven yards per carry for 563 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season. The junior is a good short-yardage and goal-line back. Wilder had an ugly performance at the Combine as he was extremely slow (4.84 40-yard dash) and continued to show a lack of body lean when running with the ball.

There were a few reasons why Wilder fell undrafted. Teams had concerns about his off-the-field maturity; A driver’s license-related arrest prior to the 2014 NFL Draft just augmented those concerns. On the field meanwhile, Wilder was viewed as being limited. His height leads to him running too upright and that can lead to injuries and ball-security issues. Few running backs in the NFL are as tall as Wilder because of those weaknesses. There were also concerns as to whether he has the burst and quickness to translate to the NFL.

Wilder was never the feature back for Florida State, and some question that he left school because was going to continue to lose carries to Karlos Williams next season. With all of that working against Wilder and the devaluing of running backs overall, it wasn’t that big of a shock that he went undrafted.

As an undrafted free agent, Wilder made another questionable decision in signing with the Bengals. Cincinnati is a good organization for being open to undrafted rookies making the team, but the Bengals are stacked at the running back position. In back to back drafts, the organization has used second-round picks on ball-carriers in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The staff also trusts and likes veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

In order for Wilder to stick in Cincinnati, he’ll have to prove to be indispensable on special teams. That could make the difference with him being the third running back or maybe the fourth – if the team carries that many. Wilder looks like a long shot to make the Bengals’ roster. If he impresses in the preseason games, he could catch on with another team that isn’t so loaded at the position.

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