Playing quarterback in college football is no easy task. Playing in the SEC as a college quarterback can sometimes be harder than playing against some NFL defenses. On that alone, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas will have his hands full leading the Razorbacks against LSU and Alabama in the SEC West.
But Wilson will have far more obstacles to overcome for his senior season. Last year’s head coach, Bobby Petrino, is no longer around. The quarterback guru who’s put Chris Redman, Stefan LeFors, Brian Brohm, Jason Campbell, and Ryan Mallett in the NFL won’t be around to aid in Wilson’s development.
Three of Wilson’s top receivers last year (Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs) all went in the 4th round in the NFL Draft last April. Gone are well over half of his passing yards, completions, and touchdowns from a year ago.
A new head coach, three receivers gone, and playing in the best conference in college football. What does Wilson have to look forward in terms of his progression as a quarterback this year? His likely new favorite receiver: 6’3, 209 pound Cobi Hamilton.
Despite having three current NFL players on the roster, Hamilton still managed to be the starter for five games a season ago, more than Greg Childs, and finished the year as the third leading receiver. However his numbers (542 yards, 4 touchdowns) were about half of what leading receiver, Jarius Wright, put up as the go to weapon for Tyler Wilson.
Wilson’s strength as a passer is his ability to progress outside-in in his routes, have touch and control in the middle of the field, and stay in the pocket until routes are full developed. Those skill sets translate directly to the NFL, more-so than just his natural size or more than adequate arm strength.
A lot of the things he does well in the three and four wide set based offense at Arkansas is similar to how Patriots quarterback Tom Brady thrived before the offense became tight end focused. And for Wilson, he has room to improve further with better mechanics to maximize arm strength as well as become more consistently accurate downfield.
But, unfortunately for Wilson, he won’t have two developed, explosive, and consistent slot receivers at his disposal to base his passing game off of. Hamilton is the only returning receiver with more than 10 catches last year. The offense can’t rely on sophomore Marquel Wade or Julian Horton to lead the team in passing the way Jarius Wright and Joe Adams did a year ago. Wilson will have to use his best receiving option, Hamilton, as much as possible.
Hamilton, being the bigger bodied, more physical receiver, has the ability to get vertical and use his size and length to win in-air battles down the field. He hasn’t been able to display overly developed routes, but it’s his separation downfield that could make him both an intricate part of the passing game as well as intriguing for NFL teams.
Hamilton’s ability to stretch the field on the outside already makes him a possible early rounder. But he’ll need to be more than just that this year to make Tyler Wilson feel staying in school for his senior year was worthwhile.
The pressure is on Tyler Wilson now, and Hamilton may be the one guy in the passing game to keep Wilson’s progress continuing as a passer. In terms of the NFL Draft, scouts likely will view Wilson’s season in three ways. If he can overcome the offensive losses, maintain 2011’s touchdown to interception ratio of 4:1, and be in the SEC title hunt, he’ll likely be the first overall pick.
If he has some struggles, scouts may write it off as a tough year, and not hold it against him, still making him a likely Top 20 pick. But if he struggles mightily, very possible with two new starters on the offensive line and two new starting receivers, he could become a product of teams crushing him for his final year, making it tough for him to surpass guys like Matt Barkley, Logan Thomas, Tyler Bray.
Cobi Hamilton needs Tyler Wilson to maximize his abilities as a receiver. Wilson needs Hamilton to step up as the big play option and legitimate number one receiver for the offense to stay productive. If both thrive, there’s a chance both could be Top 10 selections come late April in the NFL Draft. If they can’t find a way to work together in the changing offense, Arkansas will have a tough time landing in college football’s Top 10 and on the outside looking in on the BCS this year.
Eric Galko covers the NFL Draft and NFL whole as the Director of Scouting for OptimumScouting.com, and will be writing an NFL Draft profile for Crystal Ball Run every Friday.
Be sure to follow him on Twitter @OptimumScouting.