General Managers obviously like having success with their draft picks. But hitting on a pick in the first three rounds is almost expected. The fourth and fifth are good, the sixth and seventh are pleasant surprises. But hits on Undrafted free agents? That’s what dreams are made of. The Green Bay Packers have had a good history of finding some “diamonds in the rough” after the draft. This year one of those UDFA’s is running back Emanuel Wilson out of Fort Valley State University.
Emanuel Wilson had one of those Preseason performances out of a dream for a running back on Friday night. In the Packers 36-19 defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals, Wilson ran for 111 yards on six carries with two touchdowns. This included an 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter on the Packers very first play of the drive.
Turning on the Afterburners
It looks like the 80-yard run was possibly supposed to go between the Guard and Center up the middle. But a defender shot the gap and nearly blew up the play. Wilson showed great balance in changing direction to then head between the Tackle and Tight End. Once again, he found a Cornerback in that gap. But, as you see in the clip, he side-steps this defender too and heads outside. Once Wilson gets outside, he uses that 4.62 second 40-yard dash speed to reach the endzone.
This was the first time I’d really heard Emanuel Wilson’s name all camp. Maybe a few mentions, but nothing that really stood out. As it would turn out, Wilson is definitely no stranger to these long runs. In his two seasons at Fort Valley State, Wilson had a number of long runs including an 87-yard scamper. Wilson was shot out of a cannon right up the middle and it was obvious no one was catching him even after he’d only run 9 yards. In two seasons at the Division II school, Wilson ran for 2,206 yards and 24 touchdowns. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, definitely showcasing his speed.
Emanuel Wilson also triggered the heartstrings of Packers-faithful when the story broke of the significance of his big game. August 11th, 2023 marked 14 years since Wilson’s father had passed away. It was fitting for him to play his first NFL game and have the great night he had. If you weren’t rooting for Emanuel Wilson before, you kind of have to be now.
Where does he stack against the competition?
As I said before, that’s the first time I’d really heard Wilson’s name all camp. Behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon is kind of a wide-open battle if the Packers are to keep three running backs. Patrick Taylor spent time on the 53-man roster for 14 games after initially being part of the practice squad in 2022 but saw very limited time. Taylor is considered a front-runner, but this year he could be dethroned by Tyler Goodson who was a 2022 camp-standout. Goodson was actually my choice for RB3 last year but instead he spent the year on the practice squad. The rest of the RB room consists of 7th round pick Lew Nichols who has been inactive. And also, Nate McCrary who was just signed last week.
If I had to place Wilson somewhere on the depth chart right now, he’d be between RB5 and RB6. Which likely means he’ll be on the practice squad, or elsewhere in the league. Patrick Taylor’s experience has a leg up on Wilson, and Tyler Goodson’s showing in his second camp has helped his cause. I say 5 or 6 because Brian Gutekunst very much favors his draft picks. So, that gives Lew Nichols a boost. But since Nichols hasn’t really had a chance to show anything, that works in Wilson’s favor. McCrary, we don’t know a lot about still, so he still sits at the bottom.
Friday night however, Tyler Goodson sustained a shoulder injury. At Sunday’s practice he spent his time watching from the sidelines with his shoulder in a sling. We have no timetable for Goodson’s return, but in the meantime, this puts Emanuel Wilson at RB4. He will surely be making the most of this opportunity.
How will he get there?
For Wilson to make the final roster, he needs more of Friday night’s performance. That’s obvious. But outside of that, he needs to put in work on Special Teams as well as the passing game. Now that’s not to say we need Emanuel Wilson looking like Aaron Jones in the passing game. Though that would be nice. He needs to show consistency with his route running and play-action abilities, as well as pass-blocking.
Sunday Wilson could be seen chatting with Aaron Jones about pass-blocking and picking up blitzes. So, he is definitely well aware of his need to expand his skillset there. As far as the rest of the passing game goes, Wilson showed some good stuff on Friday despite never being targeted.
Often Emanuel Wilson was used as more of a check-down receiver on Friday night. Despite this, he appeared to run some good routes and do his job of pulling some defenders off of the primary routes. In play-action he appeared to do a good job of selling the fake. He was able to pull the linebackers down and when he saw he had them engaged he continued for as long as he could before turning for a possible target. It’s that kind of selflessness that will get him far in making final cuts while being on the bubble. How do you perform when the eyes aren’t supposed to be on you?
Give it all you got
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Emanuel Wilson. But he’s gotten off to a great start with his first Preseason performance. Now, it’s time to take care of the stuff he may not have been called on to do in college. Special Teams will be key in making that final roster. If he continues to perform at this level and shows up in the aforementioned categories, he has a shot to be on this roster come week 1.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.