With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#33: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
We continue this year's series with Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who went through more organizational churn in his two seasons as the Razorbacks' starter than anyone should want. Ryan Mallett's successor in Bobby Petrino's offense started out with a bang in 2011, completing 277 of 438 passes for 3,638 yards, 24 touchdowns, and six interceptions, and becoming the first Arkansas quarterback to receive First-Team All-SEC honors. Everything looked solid for 2012 until Petrino was fired for doing ... well, the kinds of things one does if one is Bobby Petrino. John Smith stepped in, Jarius Wright was replaced by Cobi Hamilton as Wilson's primary playmaker, and Wilson got back to work. On a team that sunk to 4-8 from the previous season's 11-2 mark, Wilson held it all together -- something he doesn't get enough credit for -- and kept rolling along. He completed 249 of 401 passes for 3,387 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 picks in 2012, and headed off to the Senior Bowl to further solidify his stock in a very iffy quarterback class.
That didn't work out as expected -- Wilson, like every other quarterback not named E.J. Manuel, appeared overmatched by a plethora of great defensive talent in Mobile, and his scouting combine didn't really advance his case, either. However, NFL teams will hope that Wilson's work with Chris Weinke and Terry Shea at the IMG Academy will shore up the rough spots and put the finishing touches on what does look, at times, to be a future NFL starter.
"I put a lot on my shoulders as far as I want to do well; I want to be selected high," Wilson said at his mid-March pro day. "But you've just got to be you at the end of the day and go to work and whatever happens, happens. I'm in a lucky situation where you just get to go to work and have a chance to play in the NFL."
Wilson has proven that he can deal with adversity at the college level. But can he engineer success in the pros? The answer appears to be inconclusive, as it is with every 2013 quarterback prospect, but there's a lot to like here.
Pros: Not as tall or as big as some NFL teams would like (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), but a tough player with a good frame who will make stick throws with pressure in his face. Elusive and mobile with the ability to break tackles and make throws after contact. Throws very well on the run; times receivers in open spaces and can hit those throws with excellent anticipation. Good footwork from under center on longer dropbacks -- Wilson will get back quickly and rock from his back foot to his plant foot consistently. Can move from under center to shotgun to Pistol without a hitch. Improvisational nature of his game is great when it works. He adapts to adversity well. Wilson will complete tough passes downfield off his back foot and at disadvantageous body positions. Re-sets his eyes on the field when flushed out of the pocket -- you have to take him down to end the play, and he has a absolute desire to finish. Places the ball exceedingly well in tight spaces and has the consistent ability to throw his receivers open, and to throw where only they can catch it when defenders are all over them.
Natural leader who took on that role even more after the Bobby Petrino embarrassment. Resilient individual who will pop right back up after you knock him down, both literally and figuratively. Succeed statistically in both 2011 and 2012 despite coaching changes, a questionable-at-best offensive line, and the fact that he'd probably have a handful more touchdowns in each starting season if his receivers were more sure-handed. Loss of three draftable receivers to the NFL after the 2011 season (Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs) didn't seem to affect him as much as it would others. Doesn't seem to fall under the "hothouse" designation given to other Petrino products -- can do more than just benefit from wide-open spaces in spread offenses.
Cons: Will occasionally lose his bearings against stronger defenses. Has a kamikaze element to his game that he really needs to get over -- Wilson will make highly questionable throws into tight coverages, and when he's getting sacked, leading to easily avoidable turnovers. Throws with a funky three-quarter delivery and pre-throw hitch that could leave him open to mechanical issues down the road. Tends to push and shot-put the ball on short and intermediate throws -- doesn't have a lot of touch on those passes and will occasionally zip one off that his receivers can't catch because it comes out too hot.
Struggles with ball arc and deep timing on throws that require it, such as sideline fades or back-shoulder throws in the end zone. Gets antsy with his feet in the pocket when under pressure. More a "see it and throw it" player who will lock on to his first receiver and telegraph his reads. Will invite pressure when his first read is covered, and needs to navigate the pocket more adeptly when under duress. Has missed time due to concussions. Didn't show a lot of mechanical improvement in 2012, but given the circumstances surrounding his senior season, that shouldn't be held against him ... yet. Lack of regression with all the noise around him is impressive.
Conclusion: Quarterbacks can start in the pros and be very successful despite some pretty severe mechanical idiosyncrasies -- Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler are three in the current NFL who have done so. But each of those players have also had long and glaring stretches of inconsistent play and production, because their kinks aren't fixed, and the NFL demands a higher standard of performance. To succeed at the next level, Wilson will need the right kind of quarterbacks coach who will drill him on key fundamentals and maintain that efficiency. Had he enjoyed a bit more time in a stable system set for quarterback success, Wilson might well be a sure first-rounder. Now, he'll take a bit more projection to fit that suit, but the NFL team that takes a shot on him (most likely in the mid-second round, though one never knows) could be rewarded in time.