Arkansas Football: 5 Players That Will Have an Impact in the NFL
Murphy's Sixth Corollary states that it is impossible to make anything foolproof, "because fools are so ingenious."
In an unannounced effort to test that theory, Arkansas football served as Cavia procellus in 2012.
A roster stocked, particularly on offense, with a lion's share of NFL talent at every conceivable position was riding high in the residuum of a Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State, and everyone—save for a trio of wide receivers fresh out of eligibility—was set to return to Fayetteville, Ark.
The rest, as someone, somewhere once said, is history. Bobby Petrino got beat up by his mistress' fiance—err, I mean wrecked his motorcycle. John L. Smith was hired to serve as duct tape. Paul Petrino was left to his own device, and everything fell apart in grandiose fashion.
In the aftermath, draft momentum for several former Razorbacks has been stunted—and in some cases—stalled altogether.
The coming NFL combine, as well as Arkansas' pro day to a lesser degree, will provide some opportunity to improve stock IPOs. But, in most cases, interviews and agility drills won't be enough to rectify the damage of the catastrophic JLS era.
That's bad news for the checking accounts of a handful of former Hogs, but great news for the savvy general managers that scoop them up at a dime on the dollar.
There is some Google, circa 2004, bargain potential in this group.
Draft projection: Round 1-3
NFL Comparison: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
At 6' 3", 218-pounds, Tyler Wilson has plenty of size and strength to play the quarterback position in the big leagues. His hands, measured at 8.5 inches, are smallish by NFL standards, but haven't seemed to hinder him much to this point in his career.
Some have questioned his arm strength, but the occasional lack of zip on his passes is in no way related to his right shoulder. Wilson has a powerful arm and can make all of the throws, including the dreaded bench route to the field.
The problem he ran into a season ago was a correctable one: his footwork.
Wilson has excellent mechanics from the waist up. His delivery dips a bit, but we're not talking Byron Leftwich here. From chest to release point, he's quick, and his ball is extremely catchable. His feet betray him, however, when he feels pressure—and occasionally, even when he does not—leading to lazy, inaccurate throws.
To be clear, the off-balance throws were a rarity in 2011, during which time Wilson had Bobby Petrino and Garrick McGee on his sideline.
It was an altogether different story in 2012, as he developed a tendency to throw from his back foot. In his defense, the utterly lopsided and unimaginative play calling left No. 8 exposed. He was on his back more than any quarterback in the country, so it's easy to understand how he would come to involuntarily opt for the fade away.
Wilson's toughness is second to none. He accepts contact as well as any quarterback at any level, never ducks out of throws and always stands strong in the pocket. He is also a solid athlete that moves up in the pocket with confidence and possesses the ability to escape when necessary.
On intangibles alone, Wilson is the gem of this quarterback class. Intellectually, he is fully capable of grasping an NFL system. By all accounts, he's a film junkie and a great locker room guy.
A team that makes the mistake of opting for Mike Glennon or Matt Barkley over Wilson will soon feel like Ron Burgundy with a carton of milk.
If I was in charge: Wilson would flourish in a system similar to Andy Reid's. Kansas City is strong defensively yet perched atop a defense-heavy draft. The Chiefs would do well to trade into the middle of the first round, snag Wilson and stockpile picks.
Draft Projection: Round 3-7
NFL Comparison: Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Full disclosure: Dennis Johnson is my girlfriend's favorite player. Not for any great reason, mind you, she just liked his jersey number. That, and I think she quite enjoyed singing along with Lil' Wayne's rendition of "Go DJ" as it blared through the speakers of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium each time Johnson toed the goal line to retrieve a kickoff.
She is not exactly an astute student of the game, but her adoration for the Hogs' reserve running back got her boyfriend, who is a student of the game, to take notice.
Johnson battled injuries during the early part of his career, and seemed to commonly draw the ire of his former head coach when he was healthy. Still, Johnson is the most pro-ready Arkansas running back since some guy named McFadden—and, in many cases, perhaps even more so.
For reasons unbeknown to me, Johnson logged only 243 carries during his final two seasons in Fayetteville, yet amassed 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns—per carry production that compares favorably to the top-rated back in the 2012 draft class.
At 5' 9" and 215 pounds, Johnson is built identically to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin, who went in the first round last April, and ripped off more than 1,400 yards and 11 scores as a rookie.
Short of dwelling on completely unrelated bouts with injury or a slight propensity for suspect ball control, there's really not a lot of negative to be found, which is why I find it fascinating that Johnson was not even invited to the NFL combine.
He is compact and powerful, yet versatile. He has also shown excellent proficiency as a pass catcher, while displaying equally adept vision as a ball-carrier. Teams may initially be weary of his age—Johnson turns 23 this month—but should also be aware that in five seasons, the former Razorback logged nearly 200 fewer carries than Trent Richardson amassed in just three.
Johnson is a steal in the third round. If he should slip to the third day, he could easily become the next Alfred Morris in the right situation.
If I was in charge: The Miami Dolphins knew they weren't bringing Reggie Bush back, and made no secret of their intention to shift the primary workload to Daniel Thomas.
Unfortunately for that master plan, Thomas managed only 3.6 yards per carry—more than a full yard less than Bush—and Joe Philbin was forced to turn back to Bush. Miami has five picks in the first three rounds, including two at the top of the third round, the last of which they would be well served to use on Johnson.
Draft Projection: Round 3-5
NFL Comparison: Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Cobi Hamilton morphed from field stretcher to go-to-guy in a span of eight months, providing quarterback Tyler Wilson with the most reliable target of his career last fall.
Hamilton more than doubled his career reception total with 90 catches in 2012, amassing 1,335 yards and five scores. His season-long reception and yardage totals were each school records, as was the SEC record 303 receiving yards that the Texarkana native racked up in a loss versus Rutgers.
Hamilton's development as a complete wideout was due, in large part, to a physical transformation that saw him add more than 30 pounds from his freshman playing weight.
Skilled at securing the catch along the sidelines, Hamilton is also unafraid of contending over the middle. He is an excellent route runner who routinely shakes tacklers after the catch. At 6' 2", 210-pounds, Hamilton has prototypical size parlayed with excellent hands and even better body control.
Frankly, it's difficult to find many holes in his game. During the season, I expected him to receive a 1-2 round projection, but I keep hearing 3-4. Joe Adams and Jarius Wright both went in the fourth round a year ago, and Hamilton, as far as I'm concerned, is a better pro prospect than both.
If I was in charge: Hamilton is a top five talent at his position that will likely be the 10th or 11th wide receiver off the board. The St. Louis Rams have the same problem today that they've had since drafting Sam Bradford: With respect to Danny Amendola, he's just not working with much. The problem is, they also need help in several other spots, most notably offensive line and tight end.
Snagging Hamilton in the fourth round would allow them to plug elsewhere and still emerge from the war room with massive upside at the wide receiver position.
Draft Projection: Round 5-6
NFL Comparison: Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
Chris Gragg is going to make someone look incredibly shrewd, which is ridiculous considering his value as a pass catching tight end is so plain to see.
There is one obvious knock on Gragg and I'm going to go ahead and get it out of the way: At 6'3", 240-pounds, he is thin, particularly below the waist.
By comparison, Andre Johnson is 6'3", 230 pounds. Gragg will need to add weight, but whose to say he can't? Jermichael Finley was 6'5", 240 pounds, when the Packers selected him as their third-round choice.
In fact, Finley is an excellent case study for the potential impact that a player like Gragg could have with an NFL team. Finley, like Gragg, does not have Vernon Davis' speed. Quite the contrary, actually. That doesn't stop the Packers from using Finley up the seam, nor in the red zone. And what Gragg lacks in height, he compensates for with slightly better wheels.
Frankly, there are as many as four tight ends that should be drafted ahead of Gragg—particularly by teams in need of a bulkier run blocker at the position—but there aren't eight, as is currently being suggested.
Claiming Gragg in the fifth round is a no risk, high reward opportunity.
If I were in charge: Bruce Arians has plenty of leaks to stop in Arizona, which may prevent him and the Cardinals from investing an early pick on the tight end position. Still, the cupboard is barren at that particular spot, and Gragg would be an excellent value selection well into the third day.
Draft Projection: Round 6–UFA
NFL Comparison: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Lest we forget, in the most challenging league that college football has to offer, Knile Davis racked up 1,468 all–purpose yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.
His fluidity and quickness as a runner was, at one point, as impressive as any running back in the country. He constantly shrugged arm tackles, burst into the second level, and was chiefly responsible for pushing Arkansas into the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
Prior to the start of the 2012 season, Davis, returning from a broken ankle was set to repair the subsequent broken hearts of Razorback Nation with an enormous, All-American–caliber season. He would storm unabated through opposing defenses and into the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Of that, most everyone was certain.
Unfortunately for Davis, most everyone was incorrect in their assumption. The Preseason First Team All-SEC running back managed only 377 yards on 112 carries, never accumulating more than 70 yards in a game.
What happened, exactly, is anyone's guess. He wasn't exactly allowed much opportunity to succeed with offensive coordinator Paul Petrino's insistence on throwing the football. Only once did Davis receive 20 carries in a game, and he logged fewer than eight rushes in four of Arkansas' last five contests.
By the first week in October, it was clear that John L. Smith's preference was Dennis Johnson, after which point Davis saw little more than the occasional cameo.
Beyond simply blaming his lack of production on a decrease in volume, however, there is legitimate concern with regards to the absence of explosion that was previously synonymous with Davis' game. He seemed sluggish, unsure, and incapable of escaping the initial wave of tacklers.
A broken ankle isn't of the career-ending variety, obviously, and Davis never seemed to favor the leg. He just wasn't the same player. An objective evaluation is complicated by the number of variables related to his decline in production.
Still, an optimist would point to the collegiate career of a runner like Arian Foster, who watched his rushing total dip from 1,193 yards as a junior, to 570 yards during his senior campaign. Foster, who also seemed a step slow, a tick off, watched as his draft projection plummeted from the first day to the seventh round.
The Tennessee product ultimately went undrafted, a fate that may await Davis.
As for the general manager responsible for the modest investment that it will require to secure the services of the former team captain? Well, he's swinging for the fence with house money. Zero risk, All-Pro–level reward.
If I was in charge: With apologies to Jonathan Dwyer, I just don't see him as a permanent answer in Pittsburgh, and Rashard Mendenhall isn't likely to receive another opportunity.
Davis could provide an ideal combination of power and speed for a team that particularly values the former. Better yet, with Davis' descent from first round to the end of the draft, the Steelers can supplement elsewhere, and punctuate the weekend by securing the rights to Davis.
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