Doc Harper: Thoughts On The NFL Draft And Razorback Football


The saddest/best part of NFL Draft weekend was the use of the phrase “Tyler Wilson party band” by Scott Faldon, sports editor of the Times Record in Fort Smith.

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I don’t know what the actual name of that band was, but they are missing out if they don’t officially change their name to “Tyler Wilson Party Band.”  Of course they play Journey because every cover band plays Journey. Even Journey itself is a quasi-Journey cover band at this point, what with their new Filipino lead singer they found on YouTube.

Anyway, back to the draft. Between Friday and Saturday there was plenty of reason for both disappointment and celebration, and judging from the reaction I saw, most feelings leaned toward the former.

I’m not one of the people who believes the NFL Draft provides a definitive statement on the status of a program (see: Florida State leading the nation with 11 picks) but I do think there are things we can safely take away from it.  Here is a collection of them from the weekend.

1.  At any time during Arkansas’ 21-5 run, if I told you that the highest drafted player on those teams would be a third round pick (Ryan Mallett in 2011), would you have believed me?

I wouldn’t have believed me.

It’s truly amazing what Arkansas was able to accomplish during that run, especially considering the team has had only one defensive player, Jake Bequette, and only one offensive lineman, DeMarcus Love, drafted from those teams.  Everybody else has been a wide receiver (4 picks), quarterback (2), tight end (2), and running back (1).  Or “the pretty boys” as Bret Bielema likes to call them.

That’s not the typical recipe for success in football. It tells me that Bobby Petrino’s system is very effective for Bobby Petrino, but in the wrong hands (John L. Smith) it can lead to disaster. And even for Petrino, he’ll always have difficulty beating elite, physical teams. If not for the lucky 80-yard touchdown just before halftime of the 2010 LSU game, he may have never beaten any of them while at Arkansas.

2. While Razorback football fans should be very proud of the program’s contributions to the NFL Draft in recent years, and similarly excited about Bielema’s output at Wisconsin, what should be clear is that Arkansas and Bielema must improve on defensive player recruitment/development.  Since the 2008 draft, Arkansas and Wisconsin combined have had 43 players drafted, but only eight were defensive players.

That’s the clear difference between the Alabamas and LSUs of the world with everybody else. Defensive talent. That doesn’t mean Arkansas has to go out and recruit 5-star or top-100 athletes at the rate of those programs, because those schools will always have an easier path to doing that, but that doesn’t mean the defensive side of the ball can’t be developed as effectively as the offensive side. That doesn’t mean Arkansas can’t have late round draft picks from the defense. Can we at least get some late-round defensive quality?

Let’s hope Chris Ash is up to that task. Perhaps they’ll leave J.J. Watt on the cover of the defensive recruiting brochures.

And for the record, I do think Arkansas has some defensive talent on the roster with potential to be drafted.

3.  Rutgers. How come nobody told us Rutgers had seven NFL picks on that team? The Scarlet Knights were already having a decent draft, but then dominated the seventh round with four picks. It’s incredible that Cobi Hamilton set the SEC’s single game receiving yardage record against a team with three NFL defensive backs on its team.

Obviously after last season, no Arkansas fan should be overlooking the Rutgers game this fall. But does it make you feel any better knowing they lost so many good players?  Maybe? Perhaps? Of course, five of their seven were defensive players, and a great defense isn’t the reason they won in Fayetteville last year.  But it still leaves quite a few holes for Rutgers to fill, and we’ll see if Arkansas can take advantage.

4. I know most folks have wished for Darren McFadden to get out of Oakland as soon as possible, and hate it for Wilson that he’s headed there too (especially when the Steelers took Landry Jones at quarterback just a few picks after Wilson) but how surreal will it be to watch Wilson and McFadden in the backfield together?

5. A lot of chatter about the impact of Bobby Petrino on the draft stock of Arkansas’ players, particularly Tyler Wilson. It’s hard to say for certain how much of an impact 2012 really had. If anything, I’d say Wilson’s a victim of circumstance because the NFL just didn’t seem to be as hungry for quarterbacks this year. There were four quarterbacks taken in the first round last year and a fifth taken in the second. This year, just three taken in the first three rounds. If you take the boat where the fish aren’t biting, it’s a lot harder to get a bite.

That being said, what happened to him in 2012 certainly did not help his draft stock. Some of that is a result of Petrino not being around, but some of Wilson’s detractions are the same we saw in 2011 (not just getting hit, but violently hit way too often) or knew were going to happen anyway (the 2012 receiving corps had no chance to equal the quality of 2011).

Knile Davis’s selection in the third round is something fans should be happy with. The NFL doesn’t put the same value on running backs as it used to because their shelf life is so short now, and for someone with Davis’ injury history, even ignoring his disappointing 2012 season, the third round is a pretty solid spot for him.

After the year Cobi Hamilton had it’s hard to say Petrino’s absence affected his production much, other than his touchdown catches. His stock was damaged at the Combine when he put up mediocre numbers in the traditional athletic measurements.

Chris Gragg is an amazing athlete for a tight end, and his drop in the draft surprised me the most. However, he was hurt for most of 2012, and in 2011 Arkansas had so many great receivers that Gragg had a hard time standing out.  With injuries keeping him off the field, it’s hard to say how differently, if at all, his season would have gone if Petrino had been on the sideline.

I’d argue that it appears, for the most part anyway, the craziness of 2012 was something NFL teams took into proper consideration.

In the end, it was a frustrating draft for Razorback football fans but still something to be proud of. It didn’t go as well as it could’ve gone (some mock drafts predicted six Hogs drafted) but some players do have a chance to make NFL rosters as free agents.

And if nothing else, we learned about the Tyler Wilson Party Band, and it is presumably available for booking (unless they move to Oakland).

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a regular contributor to College Football News and Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him here and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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  • DCS

    Well, Journey DOES have one of the top ten lines in Rock ‘n’ Roll history in one of their songs (Don’t Stop Believin’):

    Some will win;
    Some will lose;
    Some were born to sing the blues…

    You just can’t provide a much more concise description of life than that!

  • Agree with something you touched on defensively

    And even for Petrino, he’ll always have difficulty beating elite, physical teams.
    I would agree to an extent. The real problem with Petrino’s term at Arkansas in my estimation was twofold. 1) He didn’t have a good defensive staff that could recruit better players. I still wonder if they were that good at player development on the defensive side of the ball. Do you think if we had been a much better on the defensive side of the ball we would have won a NC when Mallet was there?
    2) The power run game never developed from some reason. O-Line, Injuries, and or the running backs themselves. Maybe there was not enough well recruited big uglies.
    I do believe coaches in the past have had more difficult times landing top tier recruits. It looks like this new staff has a much better approach and connection to that level of talent. Only time will tell. Start winning more Bowl games and make it to the SEC title games and whaa-la it gets easier.
    The one statement he made and never fullfilled is still true. Balance! You have to be able to run the ball when you want to and/or have to. You have to be able to pass the ball when you want to and/or have to. When studying this set of statements it says a lot. Now on the defensive side of the ball a simular set of inverse statements could be made. We never had that with Willy Nilly.

    • Doc Harper

      Arkansas definitely could have played for a national title in 2010 if the defense had been better. Arkansas had 4th quarter leads against both Alabama and Auburn that season but couldn’t hold on, and the Hogs would have been favored in the SEC title game against South Carolina since the Hogs had already blown them out in Columbia.

      But everything you’re saying comes back around to my general point. The emphasis on physicality and defense just isn’t part of Petrino’s mindset.

      Petrino is who he is. He will throw the ball a lot and score points. He wants to run the ball and have a good defense, but that will never be his focus. That works against most teams but not elite teams.

      It’s not like Arkansas isn’t capable of recruiting good defenses to Fayetteville. It’s happened before. Recently. The 2006 defense was really pretty solid. But why would a defensive player want to play for Petrino?

  • Biggie

    A serious question: why would an elite high school defensive player from out of state (not a native Arkie who was born calling the Hogs) want to come to to Arkansas to play instead of picking from numerous other elite programs with more to offer them? Just trying to figure out how we can get them here, cause what we been doing ain’t working.

    • Doc Harper

      Arkansas has to earn back it’s reputation as a place that can develop defensive players. That completely evaporated over the last few years. If Bielema and Ash can improve the defense where it’s respected and the players to the point where some are getting drafted, that will go a long way.

      The only defensive player drafted from Arkansas during the Petrino era was Jake Bequette. I think there are a few on the current roster with draft potential, but we’ll have to see what happens this year.

      In short, if high school players believe they can play, win, and get a shot at the NFL from going to Arkansas, they’ll consider Arkansas.

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  • Allen_TX_Hog

    There would be no shortage of playing time that is for sure. Top defensive play would play almost immediately.