2012 NFL Draft's Biggest Sleeper: Arkansas Wide Receiver Jarius Wright

Marc RubinContributor IIIMarch 19, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 06:  Jarius Wright #4 of the Arkansas Razorbacks celebrates a touchdown pass reception against the Kansas State Wildcats during the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium on January 6, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A wide variety of well-respected NFL draft prognosticators have Arkansas' wide receiver Jarius Wright going in the mid- to late fourth round. These experts, including those at Walter Football, have Wright being picked after 14 other receivers are selected. This oversight can only be attributed to Wright's small 5'10" stature. Seemingly, the experts have overlooked Wes Welker' success and Wright's 4.42 speed in the 40, and instead focused upon a single characteristic: height. Most of the guys "seeded" higher than Wright are 6'2" or more.

However, the most incredible factor being neglected is playing experience, and Wright has consistently excelled versus topnotch Southeastern Conference cornerbacks for years. Many of these opponents have become high draft choices themselves.

Here are some details regarding some of those receivers slotted higher than Wright:

  • Marvin Jones, California, 6'3": His biggest games have been against Nevada and Presbyterian.
  • Dwight Jones, North Carolina, 6'4": He has only two years of starting experience, and his top games have been against James Madison and Duke in both 2010 and 2011.
  • Tommy Streeter, Miami, 6'5": He had just one good collegiate year and his numbers were inflated by a good game against Bethune-Cookman.
  • Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers, 6'2": He has been most successful against Army, Navy, Ohio and North Carolina Central and proceeded to post a very slow 40 time at the combine.
  • Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, 6'4": He had an explosive combine, so much so that ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have predicted the San Francisco 49ers will draft him at the end of the first round. This is stunning because Hill has only 49 career catches, many of which were against Western Carolina and Middle Tennessee State.

These guys may well blossom and capitalize on their gifted, physical tools, but if you are gambling a high draft pick, don't you want to do so on a guy who has produced consistently, for years, at the highest level of competition? And Jarius Wright has not only confronted and beat the best competition on the field, but also the best competition in terms of sophisticated coaches designing defenses to stop him. These other guys haven't faced a Nick Saban or Les Miles' recruited and game-planned defense.

Let's look at a log of Wright's achievements:

  • Sept. 25, 2010: Wright catches six balls for 131 yards in a 24-20 loss to Alabama; he is opposed by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who projects to go in the first round to the Bengals, and by safety Mark Barron, who is projected to go in the first round to San Diego.
  • Nov. 27, 2010: Wright catches four balls for 68 yards in a 31-23 win versus LSU; opponents include cornerback Patrick Peterson, a first-round selection who signed a four-year, $18.4 million contract in 2011, and cornerback Morris Claiborne, projected to be the first cornerback picked in this year's 2012 draft.
  • Jan. 4, 2011: Wright catches four balls for 70 yards, including a 22-yard TD pass in Sugar Bowl 31-26 loss to Ohio State; he is opposed by Chimdi Chekwa, who becomes a fourth-round Oakland draft pick.
  • October 29, 2011: Wright catches 10 balls for 135 yards in 31-28 comeback win versus Vanderbilt; his 11-yard TD reception with five seconds left in the first half cut the deficit to 21-14; he is opposed by cornerback Casey Hayward, who is a projected third-round pick. Wright had six catches for 87 yards and two TDs in a 49-14 win versus Hayward and Vanderbilt the year before.
  • Nov. 5, 2011: Wright catches four balls for 103 yards in a 44-28 win vs South Carolina, including a 68-yard TD reception for a 17-14 lead score and then a 16-yard score for 24-14 lead. He's opposed by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a projected second-rounder in the upcoming 2012 draft.

For brevity's sake, let me just note several other highlights:

  • End of 2009 season: Wright is named the Outstanding Offensive Player in Liberty Bowl versus East Carolina.
  • Nov. 20, 2010: Wright catches an 89-yard TD pass for a 24-21 lead in the 38-31 double-overtime win at Mississippi State.
  • Oct. 1, 2011: Wright catches 13 balls for stunning 281 yards in the 42-38 win at Texas A&M.
  • Nov. 12, 2011: Wright's TD reception for the 7-0 lead jumpstarts the 49-7 win versus Tennessee.
  • Nov. 19, 2011: Wright catches eight balls for 96 yards in the 44-17 win versus Mississippi State; this is noteworthy because its defense lines up the same two starting corners and same two starting safeties the team fielded in 2010.

Finally, let me point out that Jarius Wright has confronted big corners and safeties everyday at Arkansas practices—Tramain Thomas is a projected 2012 safety draft pick, and others have included Andru Stewart, Jamar Love, Jerell Norton and Darius Winston. 

A track record of productivity and experience should be the primary criteria in selecting a high draft choice. Look for a shrewd NFL executive to surprise the pundits and pick Jarius Wright late in the second round and then look for Wright to be an impact player right away in his rookie year.