If you can handle a brief detour away from the exciting, uplifting thrill ride that is Razorback basketball, let's discuss the NFL Draft for a few moments. The annual Draft Combine starts later this week, and not only is it one of those rare times when it's socially acceptable for middle-aged men to evaluate college guys in their underwear, it's also an opportunity for three Hogs in particular to show their stuff, silence their doubters and earn themselves some money in the process.
Those three Hogs are Ryan Mallett, D.J. Williams and DeMarcus Love. What are their goals for this week? Let's break it down:
Ryan Mallett: One particularly fascinating (and befuddling) aspect of the draft is watching a player who absolutely tore up the college game be dissected by scouts to the point where it's hard to remember why he ever even had the nerve to pick up a football in the first place. Mallett is definitely going through that process now - to you, he might be the guy with the cannon arm who broke every Razorback passing record in the book, but to draftniks he's the slow, oversized QB with poor mechanics and terrible footwork who probably is a product of Bobby Petrino's system and, oh yeah, has the dreaded "character questions" to boot. (Here's a sample article that covers that line of thinking.)
As a result, Mallett has gone from being a possible top 10 pick to perhaps falling out of the first round altogether, so it's no exaggeration to say that millions of dollars are riding on his combine performance. This is his opportunity to change the conversation about his slipping status and refocus it on his actual ability to play football. Firing a few 80 yard bombs will turn a few heads, but most importantly this is his chance to show that he's not a sloppy, egotistical malcontent...an impressive performance in the 1:1 interviews is probably the thing he needs most.
D.J. Williams: When we last saw D.J. he was heroically dragging an Ohio State defender across the goal line for a game-changing two point conversion. Now that he's moved on to the draft process it's been noted that, at around 6'1", he's at least a few inches below the ideal height for an NFL tight end. Some have even suggested that he's better suited to play fullback (which, no offense to Van Stumon, is not exactly a marquee position these days).
Since growing four inches this week is probably out of the question, D.J. needs to show scouts what earned him this year's Mackey Award - great hands, crisp route-running, improved blocking - and hope he can find a team or two willing to think slightly outside the box of what a tight end should look like. One thing that's not in doubt is his ability to ace the interview portion of the evaluation...and if teams happen across his amazing Twitter feed in the process we're sure that his stock will soar.
DeMarcus Love: Continuing the theme, Love is another Razorback who needs a big week at the combine to turn around some negative momentum. To give you an example of what he's up against, Russ Lande from the Sporting News turned in this report from the Senior Bowl last month:
"Arkansas offensive tackle DeMarcus Love entered his senior season with the expectation that he'd build off his excellent '09 season and become a first-round draft pick. However, Love played poorly in '10 and saw his draft stock plummet. And his situation has not improved at all this week at the Senior Bowl. Love has really struggled in practices and was moved to right guard Tuesday, a huge step backward for a player who only six months ago was in the discussion for being the first offensive tackle drafted in '11."
Demonstrating solid run-blocking technique and all-around fundamentals would be a good way for Love to start turning things around.
In summary, the Razorbacks have three players in the thick of things at the NFL Draft Combine, but all of them have some work to do to overcome some lingering questions or negative perceptions. We'll weigh in again next week with a report on how it went.
Watch NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - Mar 1