Headed into the 2012 college football season, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was one of the most sought-after prospects at his position. After a junior season in which Wilson threw for 3,638 yards and posted a passer rating of 148.4, the 6'2", 215-pounder may well have been a first-round pick had he entered the NFL early.
Now, just one year later, Wilson is a fourth-round flameout, a practice squad passer who couldn't crack the 53-man roster of the team with the worst quarterback rotation in the NFL.
What happened? How did Wilson go from the penthouse to the outhouse so fast?
As is usually the case, there isn't really a cut-and-dried answer. It all began in Fayetteville two years ago.
Just about everything went right for Wilson and the Razorbacks in 2011. At the helm of head coach Bobby Petrino's offense with an impressive array of weaponry at his disposal, Wilson had an outstanding season.
The Razorbacks' only two losses that year were to LSU and Alabama, the two teams that would go on to play for the national title. The team won 11 games, capping off the year with a victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl.
The accolades rolled in. First-team All-SEC. Finalist for both the Manning and Unitas Golden Arm Awards. Offensive MVP of the bowl win over the Wildcats.
Many folks expected Wilson to declare for the NFL draft after his phenomenal junior season, but he chose to return to Arkansas for his senior year.
It turns out that may have been a titanic mistake.
Petrino was fired in April of 2012, amid a scandal involving an affair with a former Arkansas volleyball player. Personnel losses and injuries ravaged the Arkansas offense. The team free-fell from 11-2 to 4-8, and Wilson's numbers dropped right along with them.
Courtesy of CFBStats.com
Granted, that drop in production was hardly all Wilson's fault. However, flaws were exposed in his game during the 2012 debacle.
Far too often, Wilson stared down receivers as a senior. He also became reckless with the football, perhaps because of the drop-off in receiving talent around him.
When quarterbacks continually force passes, bad things happen.
However, despite Wilson's struggles in 2012, many draftniks still held Wilson in high regard entering last April's draft. Jim Corbett of USA Today reported that quarterbacks guru Terry Shea believed Wilson was the draft's top quarterback prospect.
In the opinion of Bleacher Report NFL Lead Writer Matt Miller, Wilson was the best pure passer in the 2013 draft class.
@CamSlan For the draft? I'd take Tyler Wilson as the best passer, but Geno Smith as the best QB prospect.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) November 28, 2012
These assessments were apparently not shared by NFL scouts. In a draft considered by many the weakest at the quarterback position in years, Wilson was the sixth quarterback off the board, selected with the 112th overall pick by the Oakland Raiders.
His draft-day slide aside, it was at least thought Oakland would be a good landing spot from a playing time standpoint. After all, all that stood between Wilson and the starting job for the Raiders were Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor.
In fact, after Wilson shined early in OTAs, there was speculation Wilson could end up starting for the Raiders from the get-go.
Tyler Wilson a realistic option as Raiders starter? http://t.co/0BFWO8Ibxn— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 13, 2013
It turns out there's a lot of difference between practice in shorts and shells and the real thing.
Once training camp opened in August, every bad habit Wilson developed at Arkansas returned and then some. He struggled picking up the offense. Wilson was more accurate throwing to defenders than receivers. He quickly fell to fourth on the depth chart behind Flynn, Pryor and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin.
Bill Williamson of ESPN offered a scathing assessment of Wilson in August.
It seems Tyler Wilson is falling further behind the #Raiders QB pack every day. Thus far, most disappointing rookie in division this summer.— Bill Williamson (@BWilliamsonESPN) August 14, 2013
By that time Miller's tune had changed as well.
It's early, but the most disappointing rookie QB I've seen is Tyler Wilson. Taking fourth-team reps at QB on that roster? Yeesh.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 19, 2013
Then, with final cuts looming, the news came down.
Tyler Wilson, 4th-round QB cut by Raiders, received $491,000 bonus....a month ago. With bonus paid off, very likely to be claimed.— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) September 1, 2013
However, Brandt was wrong, and that's where Wilson really hit bottom. No waiver claims were put in for Wilson, despite his signing bonus having already been paid.
That opened the door for Oakland to add Wilson to the practice squad, which it did on Monday according to Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk.
So where does that leave Wilson? Is his NFL career over before it started? Are fans of the Arena Football League going to be treated to the talents of Tyler Wilson in a year or two?
That's an easy conclusion to jump to, but resist the urge to leap.
The talent Wilson displayed at Arkansas in 2011 (and at times in 2012) didn't magically evaporate. When he's "on," Wilson still has one of the best arms in this year's class.
The problem is figuring out why it's been so long since he was.
Will Tyler Wilson ever start for the Oakland Raiders?
It could be that his confidence is simply shot. Wilson has kept the proverbial stiff upper lip over the past year. However, a frustrating senior year, draft-day slide, camp struggles, getting cut and then going unclaimed have been one beating after another for Wilson's ego.
Wilson wouldn't be the first quarterback to lose his confidence and then struggle as a result. Perhaps some time on the practice squad can be the first step towards regaining it.
There's also no guarantee that Wilson will even stay on the practice squad. The Oakland offense is a hot mess right now. Presumptive starter Pryor has struggled throughout in his time in the NFL. Outside of one Week 17 game against the Detroit Lions two years ago, Flynn has struggled doing just about everything, especially recently.
Throw in an offensive line in tatters and a UDFA third-string signal-caller, and it wouldn't be even a little surprising to see Wilson not only on the active roster in Oakland, but starting a game before this season is over.
Ask the Arizona Cardinals if they thought Ryan Lindley would make a start last year.
All this isn't to say that given that chance Wilson would suddenly morph into Rich Gannon, rise from the ashes and become the Raiders' quarterback of the future.
The way this season is shaping up, that young man's name is Bridgewater, and he's playing college ball at Louisville right now.
However, writing off the NFL career of a strong-armed 24-year-old kid after one bad camp is just as silly as predicting that ascension.
After all, the player whom Wilson was compared to in his draft profile at NFL.com saw his career start with a rookie year in which his head coach said "it would take a plane crash for him to get into a game," according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
That quarterback was Brett Favre.
Stranger things have happened, folks.