Josh Heupel pinpoints what sparked Darnell Wright's NFL draft rise to Bears
Heupel pinpoints what sparked Wright's draft rise to Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Darnell Wright had a solid junior season at left tackle for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2021. He allowed three sacks and 17 pressures, exiting the season as a likely Day 3 pick in the draft.
But Wright elected to return to Tennessee. He moved back to right tackle and authored a dominant senior season in Knoxville. He gave up just eight total pressures and zero sacks while allowing a pressure rate of 1.7 percent.
What happened between the end of the 2021 season and fall 2022? Wright realized the greatness that lies within him. He just had to figure out how to unlock it.
"He is somebody who was able to look himself in the mirror and truly see his potential had the chance to be realized," Tennesse head coach Josh Heupel told Chicago media about Wright's rise on Friday, one day after the Bears selected the right tackle with the No. 10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
"He is somebody who gained great confidence in his work habits and through his work habits and that allowed him to refine his play. When he got here, I would describe him as a very young football player. That was fundamentally but it was also just in his football IQ. Over the last two years, that guy has grown in that in an unbelievable way. And I think that was a huge part of his draft process, his being able to showcase his knowledge of the game, not just what he was doing but what all five guys were doing and what we were doing against different defenses, schemes and alignments. I’m really proud of the steps he took."
Many draft analysts viewed Wright as the "experienced" tackle atop the class. But while Wright had over 2,000 snaps in college, he still sees himself as a raw, violent ball of talent for the Bears to mold.
Wright's best is very much in the future.
“I think it was just the constant evaluation of myself and making sure that – I wasn’t just out there freeballing. I knew the reasons why I’d lose a rep," Wright told NBC Sports Chicago about what led to his senior year rise. "I had something to build off. I wasn’t just out there free-balling anymore. I was really focusing on honing in on my craft. Knowing why I lost, how to win the next rep.”
Wright found a way to study film that worked for him. He entered the building on Sunday and watched his next opponent straight through without taking notes. Next, Wright breaks down the edge rusher he's about to face, dissecting their game into three areas -- power, speed, and finesse. Once Wright figured out his opponent's strengths, he found his game plan.
"I try to take away his A and B I think I can dance with anybody’s C," Wright told NBC Sports Chicago. "Me and that person’s C, we can dance, you know what I mean? And we’ll see who is the better player."
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Wright's meticulous film study doesn't stop at opponents, though. He also pours over tape of the top NFL tackles, hoping to add moves to his pass-blocking repertoire. Wright has already added Trent Williams' snatch-and-trap and Lane Johnson's double under.
"I just think I’m very … not to toot my horn … I just think that I can just see something and steal it automatically from somebody, like what they do," Wright told NBC Sports Chicago. "I steal so many things from NFL players. There’s nothing really that I can’t do. It’s just a matter of teaching it to me. Once I learn it, I steal it. It’s like, ‘Don’t teach it to me if you don’t want me to take it. It’s mine now.’
"Then I just implement it into my game. I’m just, you see on tape that I have some stuff – you say it’s good or you say it’s advanced. But I don’t even know. Sometimes I feel like I’m just really out there free-balling, off instincts. If that’s where I’m at right now, I don’t know. If I get around some of these NFL vets and they can really teach me, I don’t know how good I can be.”
A year ago, Wright finished his junior season as a guy who executive director Jim Nagy didn't plan to invite to the Senior Bowl.
Wright erased every edge rusher he faced last season. Now, his journey to greatness with the Bears begins.
"I see myself as first-ballot Hall of Famer," Wright told NBC Sports Chicago about where he sees himself in 10 years. "I see myself on [the Halas Hall mural]. After that, I don't really know."
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