FOXBORO — The Patriots made nine selections in the 2018 NFL, but didn’t value Ralph Webb enough to invest one of those picks on the Vanderbilt running back.
They weren’t alone, as every team in the league also passed on the undersized back with oversized production.
But once the draft ended — with 20 running backs being selected — Webb became a hot commodity and the Patriots stepped up with a guaranteed offer of $70,000. To put that in perspective, veteran receiver Eric Decker got $75,000 to sign with the Patriots last week.
Money aside, Webb thought New England was a good fit for him and he officially signed with the Patriots on May 11, just about two weeks after the draft concluded.
“This was the best place for me,” Webb said late Thursday night after the Patriots’ preseason-opening victory over the Washington Redskins. “I had a great opportunity to come and compete with some guys and learn from a great group of backs and just be able to come here and play.”
Webb, who is listed at 5-foot-10 (ha, ha) and 200 pounds (maybe), made the most of his opportunity in his NFL debut. He rushed for 46 yards, two touchdowns and three additional first downs on 14 carries and scored a pair of 2-pointers to account for the game’s final 16 points as the Patriots rallied from 17 down for a 26-17 win at Gillette Stadium.
That production came on 25 snaps, with Webb not getting his first carry until there were 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I’m just making the most of any opportunity I get,” said Webb, who received a lot of good-natured ribbing from the veterans after meeting with the media. “I’m just trying to do everything that the coaches coach me up to do and just to do it to the best of my ability.”
Webb only averaged 3.3 yards a carry as he had four totes for zero or negative yardage. But he showed explosiveness on an 8-yard TD run with 9:05 to play, athleticism on the ensuing 2-pointer as he reached down and to his right without breaking stride to pull in a poor pass from quarterback Brian Hoyer, and quickness and decisiveness on his second TD and two-pointer, with 3:27 to play.
All in all, just what the Patriots have seen from Webb going back to organized team activities in the spring.
“He’s a tough kid that runs with good pad level, he’s got good speed, he catches the ball well,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He made a nice catch on the 2-point play. It was not an easy — I wouldn’t say it was — it was a low ball. He made a good adjustment on the catch and got it in.
“He’s been kind of like that going all the way back to his freshman year and his career at Vanderbilt. He had a lot of production down there, ran hard, took a lot of hits, like all of the backs do in that conference. He’s given us that same type of effort.”
Webb was named first-team All-State as a senior at Gainesville High in Florida after rushing for 2,020 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the Hurricanes to a 14-1 record and their first berth in the 6A state title game in 30 years.
Despite that prodigious production, the hometown Florida Gators — and every other SEC school save Vanderbilt — passed on offering Webb a scholarship. He ended up signing with Vandy over, among others, Boston College.
Webb did not disappoint. After redshirting as a freshman he started every game over the next four seasons — 49 straight — while rushing for 4,178 yards, catching 68 passes and scoring 35 TDs. That rushing total is a school record and ranks sixth in SEC history.
And while Webb was initially disappointed to go undrafted, he’s grateful for the opportunity he’s been given.
“It’s a dream come true,” Webb said. “I’ve been dreaming of playing in the NFL since I was a little kid, so I’m really happy and blessed. A lot of people can’t be in this position to be able to play on such a great team, so I’m just happy to be here.”
Same goes for the Patriots, whose post-draft investment in Webb might just pay off handsomely.