FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas offense didn’t turn in the type of high-powered season it expected in 2012, struggling to keep up the prolific pace of the groups that came before them under former coach Bobby Petrino.
It won’t have any trouble producing draft picks the next two days, though.
The Razorbacks, who didn’t have a first-round pick in the NFL Draft for the fifth straight season Thursday, won’t be shut out when the draft resumes with the second and third rounds tonight. In fact, the 2013 Arkansas class may be remembered as the most offensive players selected in one draft in school history when it’s all over.
Several draft projections believe as many as six Razorbacks — all on offense — will be draft picks this weekend. The group is headlined by quarterback Tyler Wilson, but also includes running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson, receiver Cobi Hamilton, tight end Chris Gragg and offensive guard Alvin Bailey.
“It says a lot,” Hamilton said of the potential haul of Razorbacks. “Going back to Petrino and the guys he brought in in recruiting. … Going to get Tyler Wilson out of Greenwood, going to get a kid like me that nobody really offered, going to Warren and getting those three guys (Gragg and 2012 NFL Draft picks Jarius Wright and Greg Childs). … They did a good job of developing players and bringing a lot more out of them than what they expect.”
This Arkansas draft class went 21-5 over a two-year span in 2010 and 2011. They took part in the program’s first Bowl Championship Series game at the end of the 2010 season. They followed it by winning 11 games — which equaled a school record — and finishing in the top five of national polls in 2011.
But their careers also ended with disappointment. Arkansas — despite the offensive talent returning — went 4-8 during a 2012 season marred by drama and injuries.
“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Gragg, who missed seven games in 2012 because of injuries. “I felt like I was at the top of my game. Everything was started off good for me there personally. But it got bumpy there with wins and then injuries came for a lot of people, including myself.”
But they’ve moved on. The goal since has been proving they’re worth a selection.
Gragg and running back Knile Davis made the biggest impressions of the bunch thanks to their workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine. Each tested near or at the top of their position group during the highly-scrutinized interview process.
It probably won’t vault either into the early rounds. Both are projected as mid- to late-round selections. But Davis said he still felt it was important because teams got to see he was healthy after what has been an injury-filled football career.
“Every team I’ve talked to has definitely said I’m a first-round talent,” said Davis, who participated in private workouts with Dallas, Arizona, New England and the New York Jets the past few weeks. “That’s not a question. It’s just the injuries and the season I had kind of brought me down a little bit.
“But I just want to get picked in a reasonable round and go to work.”
The same goes for the rest of his former teammates.
“I feel like I have an opportunity to play,” said Hamilton, who is also regarded as a mid- to late-round pick after setting the school’s single-season receiving mark as a senior. “I’m almost certain I have a shot to be in somebody’s camp. I’ll just try to make things happen and seize the opportunity and run with it.”
The most offensive talent Arkansas has produced in a single draft came in 2008, when five Razorbacks (running backs Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis, wide receiver Marcus Monk and offensive tackle Nate Garner) were picked.
It was part of a draft class of six players, which also is rare in Arkansas’ NFL Draft history. The Razorbacks have had six players drafted only three times since 1982 — in 1989 (seven players), 2004 and 2008 (six apiece).
Gragg and the rest of his teammates are ready to add to the list.
“It’s really surreal right now,” Gragg said. “It’s going to happen. I’m getting anxious.”
The 2012 season didn’t turn out like any of them expected.
But new opportunities await as the 2013 NFL Draft continues.
“I’ve been waiting for this day my entire life,” Davis said. “It’s around the corner and I’m ready to get it over with. I want to know where I’m at. I want to know where I’m going. I want to get to my new team and start playing.”