Two days after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018, the team signed Ralph Webb to their practice squad. Most fans did not notice the move as they were roiling over the tough loss which featured some questionable calls. With starting running back James Conner injured, the team made the move for deep insurance when they promoted Trey Edmunds. That is where Webb remained for the final month of the season.
Webb must have made enough of an impression that after the season they signed him to a reserve/future contract in January. The team elected to keep him around for the offseason due to his production during his college career with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Webb’s college career was jump-started early while starting every game his redshirt freshman season. While posting arguably the greatest season from a running back in school history, Webb set freshman records with 907 yards rushing on 212 attempts while finding the end zone four times. The numbers are not eye-popping but given that the Commodores play in arguably the toughest rush defense conference in the nation, SEC; the totals are solid. Throw because Vandy was not a good team finishing 3-9 with no wins in the SEC, and his stats are even more impressive.
Following up his initial success, Webb’s sophomore season was even better and the best in school history for a sophomore. Bulldozing his way through his second season for 1,152 yards on 277 carries and five touchdowns Webb ended the season sixth in rushing in the tough SEC. During the season, Webb had the longest rush of his career (74 yards) against Florida which was Vanderbilt’s lone score. Webb had his finest receiving season with 24 receptions for 188 yards and two scores. Solid numbers on a Vandy team that secured only two SEC wins and four total.
While running his streak to 37 consecutive starts, Webb became the Commodores all-time leading rusher during his junior season breaking former NFL running back Zac Stacy’s record. With 1,283 yards on 250 carries, Webb also surpassed Stacey’s single-season mark. Webb posted five rushing touchdowns along with 21 receptions for 166 yards propelling the team to a 6-7 record and only their eighth trip to a bowl game. During the bowl game blowout loss to N. C. State, Webb hit the century mark for the seventh time in his junior campaign.
While continuing to set the all-time rushing yardage mark at Vandy his senior season, Webb set career lows with 192 carries for 831 yards and receptions with just 13. The number totals being down are not surprising when taking into account that Vandy won one SEC game and was blown out in six others. Webb departs the program as the holder of virtually all career rushing marks, including 4,173 rushing yards (145 yards behind Bo Jackson), 931 carries, 32 rushing touchdowns, 35 total touchdowns and 16 games of at least 100 rushing yards. Solid numbers when taking into account the stout conference he played in and the fact the Commodores won six of 32 conference games over his career.
Not invited to the NFL Combine in a surprising snub, he had to impress teams during his pro day. The 5-10, 202-pound running back posted a 4.48 40 time, lifted 27 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, measured a 36-inch vertical leap and posted a 10-2 in the broad jump.
Even though Webb posted good rushing numbers in college and posted good but not great numbers at his pro day, he went undrafted. He did not last long as an undrafted rookie free agent and was snapped up by the New England Patriots. Buried on the Pats depth chart, Webb needed a spectacular preseason to make the 53 man roster. In four games, one start, he accounted for 102 yards on 32 carries, two rushing touchdowns, five receptions for 28 yards and an additional score. Webb had a banner day against the Redskins in the preseason, rushing for 46 yards, two touchdowns and one, two-point conversion rushing and another receiving.
The preseason was not a good enough performance to crack the 53-man roster but did earn him a spot on New England’s practice squad. The stint on the practice squad last five weeks before he was waived in early October. A street free agent for three weeks, Webb then latched on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Again, his time was short-lived, and he was released three weeks later.
Webb’s Steelers career started the next day when the team added him to their practice squad where he spent the rest of the season. Pittsburgh picked up his reserve/future contract in January and he looks to impress coaches during the offseason and into the preseason.
Webb shows power for his smallish stature and has good vision to find creases in his defense. He will need to use instincts he showed on tape to overcome his deficiencies in the passing game and running too upright if he hopes to latch on in 2019.
Can Webb crack the 53-man roster or land a spot on the practice squad again this season? The first three running back positions may be locked up with Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and 2019 fourth round pick Benny Snell Jr. Will the team carry a fourth? That is something the team has not done since 2015. (Not including 2018 with Bell’s holdout.)
Do you see No. 40 having a shot at the 53-man roster, practice squad, or is he just a camp body?