Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois Huskies

by Matthew Wilson on March 16, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


Despite earning well-deserved accolades for his electrifying play and outstanding gridiron accomplishments as the featured runner for Northern Illinois during the last two and a half seasons, running back Garrett Wolfe is a classic example of a collegiate star that likely will enjoy only limited success in the National Football League because of his size.

The talented Wolfe, who currently holds a combined 12 school, conference and NCAA records, will figure into the plans of a franchise that is looking for a third-down/situational back and special teams player in the lower rounds.

Background

Wolfe's prep football career started with two unremarkable seasons at Fenwick High School (Chicago), but his fortunes changed after he transferred to Holy Cross High School (Chicago) following his sophomore year. Wolfe earned all-state honors and numerous other awards as a tailback, amassing 4,311 rushing yards and 56 touchdowns on 560 carries (7.7 yards per rush) during the 2000-01 seasons. He did play on special teams as a junior, returning nine kickoffs for 378 yards (42 yards per return) and three touchdowns (91, 89 and 87 yards, respectively). Wolfe set 11 school records before he graduated.

His college career also started slowly. Northern Illinois redshirted Wolfe during his 2002 freshman season, and he missed the entire 2003 season due to academic problems. Wolfe finally received some limited playing time during the first half of the 2004 season as the No. 3 tailback before he finally landed the starting job. Wolfe finished the year leading the Mid-American Conference with 256 carries for 1,656 yards (6.5 yards per rush) and 18 touchdowns, along with 182.2 all-purpose yards per, in just six starts. He also notched 10 receptions for 117 yards and three touchdowns while also racking up 231 yards on 11 kickoff returns. Wolfe earned Mid-American Conference first-team honors and other awards.  

Wolfe started nine of 11 games in 2005 (he missed two contests with a knee injury), but he still led the conference in rushing for the second straight season. Wolfe amassed 1,580 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 242 carries (6.5 yards per rush). He caught 20 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown. In addition, he racked up 1,802 total yards and scored 102 points. Wolfe stepped into the national limelight thanks to strong performances against two teams from the Big Ten Conference. Against Michigan, Wolfe rushed 17 times for 148 yards and scored on a 76-yard run. He also rushed 34 times for 245 yards and scored three touchdowns against Northwestern. Wolfe's laundry list of 2005 awards included MAC Player of the Year honors.

Wolfe's 2006 senior season was his most productive. He started 13 games and led the nation in rushing with 1,900 yards, on 289 carries (6.6 yards per rush), to go along with 18 touchdowns. He also caught 26 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown, piled up 2,147 all-purpose yards and scored 116 points. Wolfe received national acclaim for a strong performance against then-No. 1 Ohio State, rushing 26 times for 171 yards. His single season total of 2,147 all-purpose yards ranks second in Northern Illinois history behind the 2,284 yards amassed in 2002 by running back Michael Turner (San Diego Chargers). Wolfe also became the first player in MAC history to lead the conference in rushing, all-purpose yardage and scoring for three consecutive seasons.

Wolfe started 27 of the 32 games in which he played at Northern Illinois. He amassed career totals of 787 carries, 5,136 rushing yards, (6.5 yards per rush), 52 rushing touchdowns, 56 receptions, 586 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He also totaled 231 yards on 11 kickoff returns and scored 344 points. In addition, Wolfe touched the ball 854 times for 5,953 all-purpose yards. 

Positives

Wolfe's production was outstanding, and he played at a top level against some nationally respected teams during his collegiate career. Wolfe runs extremely hard and plays with a lot of heart.

Recognized for his slashing running style, Wolfe displays an explosive burst to the hole and outstanding quickness (4.43 40-yard dash) to the perimeter that few other running backs possess.

At the combine, Wolfe notched a 4.08 time in the 20-yard shuttle and registered a 6.69 time in the three-cone drill, which were both top marks among all running backs tested. The 22-yard-old has great balance and change-of-direction ability; he can make the first tackler miss.

Wolfe sees the field well, makes good decisions and shows patience in letting his blocks develop. He has a strong upper-body (he bench pressed 225 pounds a total of 18 times at the combine) and good leg drive (33-inch vertical jump). Wolfe has done well protecting the football, fumbling just five times in the last two seasons and has demonstrated good hands as a receiver. 

Despite academic problems at Northern Illinois, Wolfe's intelligence is not in question. Many believe that missing the 2003 season was a wakeup call for Wolfe, and he started to apply himself in the classroom. Wolfe willingly has spent extra hours in the film room. There have been no concerns about his character, work ethic or attitude. Wolfe was a communications/media major. 

Negatives

Wolfe's lack of size (5-foot-7 3/8, 186 pounds) and concerns about his durability at the next level are both red flags. Although Wolfe missed just three games with injuries in college, his frame lacks the bulk to withstand the pounding that a featured back in the NFL regularly absorbs.

Wolfe underwent surgery on his right shoulder twice during his college career (spring 2005 and spring 2006), which has helped spark the doubts about his durability. Although Wolfe is strong and has great leg drive, he lacks the necessary power to run, consistently, up the middle and move the pile.

Wolfe occasionally struggles in short-yardage and goal-line situations; he has a tendency to get stuffed when opposing defenses stack the line. Wolfe's experience with route running was limited, because he was thrown to mostly on dump-offs and screens. Wolfe lacks experience as a kickoff returner.  

Draft Placement

Wolfe has been wrongly compared with current NFL players such as running back Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) and running back Leon Washington (New York Jets). Wolfe, Jones-Drew and Washington are all similar in height; however, Jones-Drew and Washington both weigh in the low 200-pound range, while Wolfe weights just 186 pounds. Wolfe lacks the size and bulk to serve as a featured back, which is what will scare teams away from pulling the trigger on him in the early rounds. However, he should bring impressive value to a club as a third-down/situational running back and potential special teams kickoff/punt return specialist.

Wolfe likely will hear his named called in the fifth round. He could slide up into the fourth round, if a team in need of a backup running back is enamored with his speed. To survive in the NFL, Wolfe needs to add at least 10 pounds of muscle without sacrificing his speed. 

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About Matthew Wilson

Matt Wilson is a lifelong college and pro football fan who proudly touts the Michigan Wolverines and the Chicago Bears as his two favorite teams. Matt discovered fantasy football in 1999 and has been addicted to it ever since. His professional background includes a four-year stint as a news reporter for a Chicago-area radio station. Matt was sports director for his college television station at Northern Illinois. Seeking a new challenge, Matt joined KFFL in 2004.

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