FOR 15 DAYS in July 2014, Wendell Smallwood's football career was very much in doubt.
Smallwood was arrested at West Virginia University, where he was training for his sophomore season at running back, and was extradited back home to Wilmington, Del. He was charged with trying to get a witness in a murder case to recant her statement implicating Smallwood's friend, a man named Zakee Lloyd, who was accused of killing 51-year-old Manuel Oliveras in an apparent robbery attempt in 2012.
It turned out authorities had Smallwood on tape speaking with Lloyd over the phone, Lloyd urging Smallwood to speak with the woman, Smallwood telling Lloyd: "I almost got her beat up."
Smallwood was arrested on July 14. On July 29, Lloyd entered a guilty plea - he's now serving 22 years - and the prosecutor dropped the charge against Smallwood.
"Since his arrest, Wendell Smallwood has been fully cooperative with the Department of Justice and Wilmington police, including giving a full statement regarding his involvement in witness intimidation," prosecution spokesman Jason Miller said.
Miller said Smallwood would have testified against Lloyd had Lloyd's case gone to trial as scheduled, the day the plea was entered. "His cooperation was instrumental to the state" in convicting Lloyd, Miller said.
Smallwood returned to West Virginia, where as a junior last season he led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,519 yards, enough to convince him to try the NFL draft. Saturday afternoon, the Eagles made him their first selection of the final day, 153rd overall.
With DeMarco Murray gone, Smallwood, 5-11, 208, would seem to have an excellent chance of finding a spot in a backfield headlined by soon-to-turn-33 Darren Sproles and fragile Ryan Mathews, who are backed up by Kenjon Barner.
West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider said Sunday that Smallwood translates well to Eagles coach Doug Pederson's offense; Seider sees Smallwood as being similar to Jamaal Charles, the focal point of that attack when Pederson was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City.
"Our whole staff and administration was behind him 100 percent" after the arrest, Seider said. "He told us from Day 1, 'Coach, I didn't do anything.' "
Seider said given the case's quick resolution, the Mountaineers were glad they hadn't dismissed him from their team. "When he came back, he didn't miss a beat. He came right back like he never left."
"I was just in a wrong situation," Smallwood said Saturday. "I was young, hanging out with the wrong people. I was never around whatever happened. I wasn't involved. There was no evidence, no witness against me.
"I've just been learning from it and letting everybody know the truth. I've been completely honest with the guys here and the guys at every team I spoke to. They were well aware of it . . . I think they have confidence in me, that that's not me, and that was a one-time thing, and it won't happen again."
Seider called Smallwood "the best back in this draft at catching the ball," an important attribute in most West Coast schemes. He added that New England showed the most interest during the draft process, but when Smallwood's last predraft visit was to the Eagles, he began to picture him in Philadelphia.
He said West Virginia could adjust during a game, lining up Smallwood in the slot if needed and trusting him to figure out the coverage, even in weeks when he hadn't done anything in practice but run the ball. "He gets it, from man coverage to understanding the box," Seider said.
Seider said Smallwood suffered a high ankle sprain last season but didn't miss a game, though he sat out practice between games for at least a few weeks.
The Eagles, without much early-round draft fodder after the Carson Wentz tradeup, decided Smallwood was worth a fifth-round investment.
"We did a lot of background on Wendell with our security team, with the league security . . . He was never charged with anything, and we're comfortable bringing him in here," Eagles vice president Howie Roseman said.
When the Eagles drafted Smallwood in the fifth round, fans quickly sorted through his Twitter account and found some extremely crude tweets from 2011, some of which spoke critically of Philadelphia, in the context of a rivalry between inner-city youth here and in Wilmington. Some used the word "gay" disparagingly. Smallwood quickly took down the account.
"I don't believe anything I said," Smallwood said. "I've definitely grown from that, since that stuff was sent out . . . I'm sorry if I offended anybody, but that's not how I feel, that's not the kind of person I am, and hopefully I get to show that through these years in a professional league."
Roseman said the Eagles knew of the tweets before making the pick (though, if so, it's unclear why they weren't erased sooner).
"They were in 2011. A lot has changed between now and then," Roseman said. "We don't condone anything he said, but we spent a lot of time with him, and we feel like this is a good kid."
Seider called Smallwood "level-headed, very mature . . . Almost like my kid."
Doug Pederson said there is nothing new in the Sam Bradford situation. "We just look forward to the day he comes back," Pederson said . . . Ditto with the Fletcher Cox long-term deal talks, Howie Roseman said . . . Monday, the Eagles are expected to announce a list of about 15 undrafted free agents they've signed. Reportedly, it includes San Diego State guard Darrell Greene, former Arkansas linebacker Myke Tavarres, who finished his career at Incarnate Word, Valdosta State running back Cedric O'Neal and at least three defensive tackles, one of whom is Washington State's Destiny Vaeao, an explosive pass rusher.