The Arkansas Razorbacks had four of their own selected in the 2013 NFL Draft: Knile Davis (3rd round, Kansas City Chiefs), Tyler Wilson (4th round, Oakland Raiders), Cobi Hamilton (sixth round, Cincinnati Bengals) and Chris Gragg (7th round, Buffalo Bills). Will they have more than four players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft? That’s tough to say considering the season hasn’t even started yet, but this much we do know; the top draft eligible prospects for the Hogs in 2013 are the big boys on the offensive and defensive lines.
Travis Swanson continued the elite play at center that started back in 2006 with Jonathan Luigs, giving the Razorbacks six (seven if you count this fall) All-American caliber years at one of the most underrated positions in the game. Unlike Luigs, who lasted only one season in the NFL with the Bengals, Swanson looks like a potential rock at the next level.
New Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema, whose last two centers at Wisconsin were each top-55 picks in the last two drafts (Peter Konz and Travis Frederick), has favorably compared Swanson to any center he’s ever coached, even signaling he might be the best center he’s ever coached. And that’s after only one spring of eying Swanson. At this point, I’d say Swanson has the look of a late 2nd round pick, but a Rimington Award-caliber season this fall and good testing at the circuits could jump him to late first-early second round status.
The top prospect on defense is end/outside linebacker Chris Smith. Though undersized at 6-foot-2, 265-pounds, Smith, with 9.5 sacks in 2012, is actually the second highest returning sack master in the SEC this fall, only behind All-Milky Way Galaxy prospect Jadeveon Clowney.
Smith has great explosion off the snap and impressive fluidity as whole, but he will need to get much stronger to play at the next level. A move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme might be the best way to capitalize on Smith’s strengths in ‘The League’.
Smith’s fellow defensive lineman, tackle Byran Jones, will also be looking to boost his draft stock this fall. Jones is as good of a run-stuffing defensive tackle as there is in the SEC this fall, but he is hurt by a lack of pass-rushing prowess, evidenced by his paltry career high 1.5 sacks last year. Still, Jones, at 6-foot 2, 310-pounds, will be an excellent fit as a 5-tech end in a 3-4 or a nose in 4-3 at the next level, where his run-stuffing is best utilized.
Defensive end Trey Flowers, though still an underclassman, might have the highest ceiling of anyone on the Hogs’ defensive line. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Flowers could translate a strong junior season into a high draft pick (similarly to former Hog Jamaal Anderson, though hopefully he’ll have a better career than the latter).
Then we come to David Hurd, who’s set to begin his second season starting on Razorbacks line, though this time around he’ll be firmly entrenched on the blindside (former coach Bobby Petrino didn’t use ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ sides, but ‘weak’ and ‘strong’). Hurd lived the classic tale of beginning his career as an afterthought walk-on, but eventually he worked his way up to starting in the brutal SEC. Scouts and personnel men have always carried an affinity for former walk-ons, largely because they know the attitude, work ethic and desire for the game is as pure as the deep south’s humidity.
Hurd has good size at 6-foot 5, 310-pounds and comes from a football family, but he needs to improve his flexibility and agility. He’s got a good kick-slide, gives a good punch, and has all the intangibles a coach could ever ask for. He’s in a fortunate position, like Swanson, in playing in Bielema’s power-man scheme this fall, as it could really boost his draft stock. Though Hurd is looking more like a fringe-late-round prospect at this point, don’t be surprised if he winds up getting drafted earlier than that. He’s overcome long odds before, why not again?
The Hogs are re-identifying themselves this fall. If Bielema is as good at developing linemen as he’s supposed to be, I’d expect more and more linemen to flock to Fayetteville and more and more Razorbacks getting drafted into the NFL.