As Mr. Tony is fond of saying on his radio program and PTI, we bid a melancholy happy trails to 17 seniors on the Arkansas Razorback football team. We spent some time on this subject in November when these Hogs played their final game in Arkansas, and it hits home tonight. Never again will we get to see Joe Adams, Jake Bequette, Jarius Wright, or Greg Childs run onto the field while wearing that beautiful Razorback on their helmets. With these Razorback heroes and the rest of their classmates, we have known all year it would come to a sudden end after bowl season. We have enjoyed – even savored – their play this season, wishing it could last forever while understanding it could not.
These upperclassmen could be joined by a half dozen Razorback juniors, leaving Fayetteville in hopes of making a living playing the game they love. For these Hogs, most fans have not spent the season soaking up every memory, believing we had another season of thrills and chills to enjoy. Unfortunately, I believe we will say an unexpected farewell to at least two key Razorbacks one year earlier than we all planned.
The most unusual early entrant may be Knile Davis, the 2010 SEC rushing champion that missed the 2011 campaign thanks to a broken ankle. The junior (Davis technically remains classified as a junior, although he is eligible for a redshirt season) has submitted his name to the NFL draft board. Underclassmen routinely do this in an attempt to get some feedback from personnel officials in the NFL. This feedback helps guide these young men in their decision-making process for leaving early or returning to college. Davis clearly has NFL talent, but one must wonder whether he can stay healthy enough for an NFL team to take a gamble. Despite that obvious concern, Davis has made a few cryptic quotes that lead us to believe his days in Fayetteville may already come to an end.
Defensive end Tenarius “Tank” Wright has also asked to be evaluated by NFL scouts. Like Davis, Wright suffered through injury his junior season but managed to play in half the games after suffering a broken wrist at Alabama. Like his bookend Bequette, Wright looks and plays like an NFL defensive lineman/outside linebacker. He appears to be under-seasoned, something that most elite athletes do not see as a limitation. Wright would almost certainly be selected in the April draft, but early enough to justify leaving school early? That’s the decision he’ll face after tonight.
Spark plug running back/kick returner Dennis Johnson and tight end Chris Gragg, an emerging star at that position, have also asked for guidance from league scouts. Their quotes indicate that both will be back for another season in Razorback red. If they do return, two positions will have much-needed security heading into the 2012 season.
Cobi Hamilton is an exceptionally talented wide receiver. While not the complete package – yet – Hamilton does possess the size and speed NFL scouts covet. Hamilton is lighting fast and has a solid frame (6-3, 209 lbs) that will serve him well in pro football. Most folks expected Hamilton would be tempted by the NFL. It seems like a 50-50 proposition that Hamilton returns. If he does, Cobi will undoubtedly be The Man in a talented but inexperienced wide receiving corps. Hamilton stands to put together a breakout season in 2012 should he return, making a name for himself like recent SEC alums Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and recently announced NFL draft early entrant Alshon Jeffery.
That leaves us with one more possible, if not likely, early entrant into the NFL Draft.
The lifelong Arkansan has lived his childhood dreams. He led his high school to state titles. He got the chance to play at the University of Arkansas. This season he emerged as a star, garnering all-SEC honors in his first season as a starter. And now he has the chance to become a first-round NFL draft pick. Think I’m overstating things? NFL draft expert Mel Kiper recently listed Wilson as the #3 quarterback in the draft (paywall) should he enter, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor. Says Kiper:
Tyler Wilson, were he to enter the draft, would be at No. 3 on this list for me. This is a kid who just shows great toughness and the ability to be accurate while extending plays and taking hits. He worked behind a subpar offensive line this season, but is willing to look down the barrel and make throws. He slides well to his left or right, has above-average accuracy, and has a good sense of how to calibrate his throws, not overcooking underneath throws, and putting the necessary pace on the ball when he wants to push it down the field. Let’s be clear that there’s no guarantee at all that Wilson would land in Round 1 were he to stay in the draft. But he does have that kind of potential.
With USC’s Matt Barkley and Oklahoma’s Landy Jones opting to stay in school, this NFL draft appears very lean at the quarterback position. With teams like Seattle, Washington, and Oakland (to name a few) uncertain with their situations, it’s a good year to be a quarterback in the draft. Add to that fact that Indianapolis holds the number one pick and will likely select Luck, andthat means Wilson has the chance to find himself a first round pick this year. If he gets good feedback from scouts (and if Kiper is hearing this about Wilson, it’s easy to assume Wilson will also hear it) we may watch Tyler Wilson’s last game as a Razorback tonight.
Enjoy tonight, folks. Win or lose, this is the last time we’ll get to see a group of very special Razorbacks represent our state and our university. Let’s hope that some of them decide to give it one more try next season. I, for one, plan to treat tonight like the last time I’ll see them all. If they report back in August, we will all be lucky – and poised for another special season.