Ralph Webb finished the 2016 season as the SEC’s #4 rusher with 1172 yards on the ground. As an integral part of the Vanderbilt offense he find himself in an interesting position as a redshirt junior with one year of eligibility left. Webb is already the leading rusher in Commodore history and could roll the dice and try his hand at the NFL Draft or he could come back to Nashville for one more year to pad his stats and improve his draft stock.
When he left high school Webb was a three star running back with several offers to play college football. Minnesota, Boston College, South Florida and a few other middle of the road programs lost out to Vanderbilt when he signed his National Letter of Intent in February 2013. That fall the Commodores were set at RB with Brian Kimbrow, Wesley Tate and Jerron Seymour so the incoming freshman opted to redshirt.
In 2014 Webb set a school freshman record with 907 rushing yards and followed it up as a sophomore with 1,152 yards on the ground. He also had four games with at least 100 yards rushing and two games where he had 99.
This season Webb rushed for over 100 yards in at least six games and had 211 against MTSU in September. In the last two games against Ole Miss and Tennessee Webb rushed for a combined 237 yards and 5 touchdowns in big upset wins. Now that Vanderbilt is 6-6 and bowl bound his stats will only get better and he will have more time to impress scouts in the postseason.
But will Webb want to leave Vandy and declare for the draft? Last year his teammate Stephen Weatherly opted to leave Nashville a year early and was invited to the Combine after a stellar junior season. Weatherly was thought to be a mid-round pick but slid to the seventh round where he was picked by Minnesota. Weatherly was cut in August and was signed to the practice squad where he remained until an injury freed up room on the main roster in November that led to him finally making the Vikings 53 man roster.
This year there are a lot of quality running backs in the draft. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Nick Chubb will all likely be taken in the first or early second round. Then when you look at guys like Royce Freeman, Curtis Samuel, Wayne Gallman and Sony Michel expected to go in rounds two and three it might behoove Webb to stay at Vanderbilt another year to improve his stock and jump into the top two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. If he comes out after Vandy’s upcoming bowl game Webb likely won’t get picked until the fourth or fifth round at the earliest and there is no guarantee he would be invited to the Combine next February.
Next year Vanderbilt will be returning all but two starters on offense and if Webb returns the Commodores could be in position to contend for the SEC East, as long as the defense doesn’t slip too much after All-SEC LB Zach Cunningham goes pro. Sophomore QB Kyle Shurmur has had the training wheels taken off in the last two weeks of the season and it’s translated into two big wins over conference opponents and bowl eligibility. As long as Shurmur continues on the same trajectory and Webb is in the backfield Vandy will be lethal on offense next year.
With Fournette, Chubb, Kamara and Michel all gone to the NFL in the 2017 draft Webb could be the standout running back who gets all the media coverage next season. Instead of being lost in the shuffle behind Fournette, Chubb and co. Webb enters next season as first team All-SEC and the talk of the league. With 3,231 career rushing yards Webb is 26th in career yards in the SEC. If Webb gets at least 1,000 yards as a senior he would be ranked 5th all-time behind Bo Jackson, Kevin Faulk, Darren McFadden and Herschel Walker. Walker left Georgia with 5,259 career yards and is the standard that all SEC backs are measured against. Webb would need to average 145 yards in every game he has left at Vandy to break it (counting the 2016 bowl game and a bowl game in 2017). While that’s not likely to happen he did average 98 yards a game in 2016.
Another intriguing factor is that next year Alabama travels to Nashville to face Vanderbilt. I’m not saying that the Commodores are going to beat the Tide. But what happens to Webb’s draft stock if he goes off for 150 yards on Alabama’s defense that is stocked with future NFL talent? What happens to him if he leads Vandy to an upset victory?
Webb could very well opt to declare for the draft but I think there are too many parallels to his old teammate Stephen Weatherly last year. I’m afraid he would get lost in the shuffle with so many talented running backs in 2017. But if Webb can show scouts he can be dominant as a senior and Vanderbilt has an even better season next year Webb has the potential to be at the very least an early second round pick in 2018.