Arkansas-Mississippi State:

Jonathan Banks had a solid game with a sack, forced fumble and solid coverage. He’s a bigger corner and I thought he struggled with faster/quicker receivers and that was evidenced today by Jarius Wright creating consistent separation against him. He didn’t seem to close well when Wright made his breaks on underneath routes, and that allowed him to generate separation and make receptions against Banks. I am a Banks fan, but I think he matches up better with bigger, more physical receivers.

Tyler Wilson was very good today against Mississippi State. He’s putting himself squarely in the 1st round conversation for the 2013 draft. Is he a perfect prospect? No, but he has a live arm, he’s flashed some very impressive ball placement into tight windows, and he has shown me that he’s a bit of a gunslinger. He needs some mechanical work especially when he is outside of the pocket because his mechanics break down and he throws with uncharacteristic throwing motions with varying release points which makes it hard for him to be consistently accurate. Inside the pocket he dips the ball a bit during his motion so I think it could be tweaked to speed up his release. However I was very impressed with the zip he had on his throws today and he made some very impressive stick throws into tight windows. Like I mentioned before, he has a gunslinger mentality to him as a passer and it makes him fun to watch because he makes some incredible throws but with that come some mistakes that aren’t characteristic of more consistent passers. He’s got plenty of upside, but has some flaws as well. He has a HUGE test coming up against LSU’s fantastic secondary next week, and it will be very interesting to see how he does. My personal guess is that he has a productive day but two interceptions. LSU forces a ton of turnovers, and Wilson makes some throws that better defenses could have a shot at. You heard it here first!

Dennis Johnson was incredibly impressive today. He reminded me of Michael Turner “The Burner” back when he was on San Diego and in his first season as the feature back in Atlanta. He’s a smaller back at only 5’9″ but he is very well built at 213 pounds. He only has 91 attempts on the season, but he has produced 606 yards (6.65 ypc) and 3 touchdowns as well as 20 receptions for 258 yards and 2 more touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough for only 9 games of production without being the established feature back in each game, he also has returned 18 kickoffs for 461 yards (25.61 avg) and 1 touchdown this season. He’s a very talented back, and he displayed great burst, footwork and acceleration into the hole against Mississippi State. He seems to have impressive vision, runs fairly patiently, and does a good job of consistently making one cut and getting North/South instead of wasting steps in the backfield and going East/West trying to generate a big play. He runs with good natural pad level because of his height, runs through arm tackles easily because of his compact body type, lower body strength, impressive leg drive and does a great job of pushing piles and getting yards after contact because of his natural leverage and leg drive. He is a natural receiver out of the backfield and has soft hands and is dangerous after the catch for the same reasons he is dangerous when running the ball out of the backfield. On top of that, he has demonstrated some serious potential as a pass protector. Specifically in this game he was lined up next to Wilson in a shotgun formation, the ball was snapped and as per his assignment he moved to the right of Wilson to see if he needed to pick up a blitzer, there was no one, but he quickly recognized that there was a blitzing defender coming off of the left edge that was not going to be picked up. He then alertly flew towards him and took him out just in time for Wilson to deliver a nice throw to Cobi Hamilton for an Arkansas touchdown. Had Johnson not made that terrific play it would have changed the game entirely. Johnson is one of the most underrated running backs in the country if not the most underrated as Ben Allbright of NFL Draft Monsters has been saying for weeks now. He’s a very talented running back that has an injury history, but now that he is healthy he is demonstrating exactly why he was the starter ahead of Knile Davis on the depth chart. He is a different back from Knile Davis but he is very talented in his own right.

-It was great to see Greg Childs get in on the action in this game. He didn’t have a huge role, but he definitely looked the best that I have seen him since he injured his patella tendon last year. I don’t think there is any doubt that he isn’t 100% yet, but he is definitely vastly closer to 100% than he was earlier in the season. He has very reliable hands, quality size at 6’3″, 217 pounds and while he doesn’t have elite speed he has the ability to make plays on 50/50 balls that gives him value when healthy. His hands are very dependable and he displayed that on each of his three catches for 32 yards in this game, and even displayed some of his patented shiftiness on one play when he made a great snag, made a guy miss with a move to the inside and gained first down yardage. Childs isn’t healthy and hasn’t been healthy yet this year which is why he only has 13 catches for 152 yards and no touchdowns so far, but he is getting healthier each week and that is encouraging. Hopefully, should Arkansas end up in a BCS game, Childs will be healthy enough to make a comparable impact to what he was able to do before getting injured last season.

Jarius Wright was relatively quiet in this game. He had 8 catches for 96 yards but didn’t score a touchdown and his long on the day was 26, which isn’t really anything special for Wright considering his explosiveness. Jonathan Banks was able to take away some of the deep stuff, but gave up underneath passes to Wright and Wilson was wise to exploit that for significant chunks of yardage the way he did. Wright has definitely had better games, but the fact still remains that he is as explosive as any receiver in the country right now and is forcing teams to consider putting an early 2nd round or potentially even late 1st round grade on him the way he has been playing all year.

Joe Adams is an interesting prospect. I say interesting because he’s not necessarily intriguing. You know what you’re getting with Joe Adams. He’s listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds (though I would not be surprised if he was 5’10”) and has produced 46 receptions, 595 yards and 3 TD’s, 9 carries for a mind-boggling 138 yards and 1 TD, plus a phenomenal 16 punt returns for 259 yards (16.19 avg) and THREE touchdowns on the season. To put it simply: Joe Adams is explosive. When he has the ball in his hands he is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the country, potentially as dangerous as Jarius Wright who is making a solid case for himself to be drafted in the top 40 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. So why doesn’t he grade out as high? He has inconsistent hands because he body catches too much and has had issues with drops, he makes mental mistakes on the field and he is a hot head. By that I mean he lets his emotions get away from him at times which lead to dumb personal foul penalties. Last year as a junior he had an avoidable personal foul penalty in what may have been every single game I watched of Ryan Mallett after the season was over which was very telling. He’s got a ton of athletic ability and potential, I just don’t know how much of that he will reach because of some of his less stellar attributes as a prospect. He could be a huge steal in the 4th round range, or he could be limited to a gimmick fourth wide receiver and a good/very good punt returner.

Cobi Hamilton is a receiver that I have gone on record as saying has the most potential of any of Arkansas’ talented receivers. I still believe this even though he has not been featured in their offense if only because they have so many other viable weapons to utilize. Hamilton is 6’3″, 209 pounds and has produced 29 receptions, 441 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers don’t properly reflect how much ability he has because he is sharing the spotlight with Wright, Adams, Johnson and occasionally Childs and Chris Gragg. While Hamilton hasn’t displayed his full potential yet this season if he does come back next year he will be Wilson’s go-to guy and should make it very clear to the rest of the country just how talented he is. Hopefully he comes back because it would be extremely fun to watch Wilson and Hamilton play pitch and catch as seniors with significant playing experience under both of their belts.

Chris Gragg is a player that I was not even aware of for Arkansas because they just have so many other weapons. He is a 6’3″, 239 pound tight end who has replaced D.J. Williams in the starting lineup for Arkansas this season. He is a junior, but this is his first significant playing time and he has had a quality season as a result. He has produced 38 receptions, 457 yards and 2 TD’s this year, and he had his best game against Mississippi State totaling 8 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown. He has reportedly improved significantly as a blocker over the course of the year which has led to Arkansas trusting him more and allowing him to evolve further as a receiver, and that seems to be the trend considering his break-out game so late in the season. He’s a talented tight end with very reliable hands and pretty legitimate NFL size, so definitely watch out for him the rest of the season and next year as a senior. He’s going to make teams pay if they forget about him in favor of slowing down Cobi Hamilton.

Chris Smith is an underrated junior receiver on Mississippi State. He has quality hands (even though he had a bad drop on an easy curl route today) but he just doesn’t get to display his ability because of Mississippi State’s terrible passing offense. He only has 30 receptions, 283 yards and 2 TD’s on the season. If you looked at those numbers objectively along with his solid but not spectacular listed size of 6’2″, 205 pounds you wouldn’t think he is anything special. I still believe that he is though. I saw flashes of impressive ability last year and I have seen it at times this year, he just needs a legitimate quarterback who can get him the ball so he can demonstrate it. So keep an eye out for Chris Smith because even if his statistics aren’t impressive there is talent there, he just hasn’t had a chance to show it.

Jake Bequette is a very impressive athlete. He reportedly ran a 4.59 40 yard dash at 270 pounds before the season which is incredibly impressive even though he might be a bit of a workout warrior. Regardless, he has legitimate edge speed and has been very productive for Arkansas in his career. This year the senior 6’4″, 270 pound defensive end missed a couple games due to injury, but has had a solid year with 21 total tackles (8 solo), 6.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and one pass deflection. I have a round three or four grade on him right now because while I love his athleticism and his fantastic motor I’m not sure he has enough upside as a starting 4-3 defensive end to warrant top 50-60 consideration in the upcoming draft.

Jerry Franklin always stuck out to me when I watched Arkansas since the beginning of last season when I was scouting them to watch Ryan Mallett initially. He’s a converted safety if I remember correctly and is currently listed at 6’1″, 245 pounds and is one of the leaders of Arkansas’ defense. Coming into the game against Mississippi State he had produced 82 total tackles (38 solo), 10.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, three pass break ups and one fumble recovery that he returned 94 yards for a touchdown. He is a reliable linebacker and always struck me as a quality coverage linebacker, perhaps because of his experience at safety. I like his potential upside and while he isn’t a 1st or 2nd round pick I think he has a legitimate NFL future.

-There might not have been a more impressive player on Mississippi State than Fletcher Cox in this game. The junior defensive tackle was everywhere, especially in the first half. He recovered a fumble and rumbled deep into Arkansas territory, he made stops at the line of scrimmage after fighting off blocks and he blocked an Arkansas field goal attempt with a vicious move to penetrate into the backfield and get his hands on the kick. Coming into the game the 6’4, 295 pound defensive tackle had produced 40 total tackles (20 solo), 9.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks. He padded those numbers against Arkansas today and really impressed me as this was the first time I had ever paid close attention to him. He’s got very legitimate NFL talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him declare early even though there is some defensive tackle talent in this draft if additional juniors declare.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you enjoyed my notes on this game. There are definitely more to come.

–Tom