Pro prospects: Lattimore's future; Arkansas talent

jkendall@thestate.comNovember 9, 2012 

South Carolina TB, Marcus Lattimore (21), gets past Georgia Bulldogs safety Jakar Hamilton (23) on a second quarter run for a first down during the Gamecocks game against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday, September 11, 2010 Columbia, SC 9/11/10 Gerry Melendez/gmelendez@thestate.com ** OUTS: AP OUT, MAGAZINES OUT, MCT AND NEWSPAPERS PRINT ONLY-WEB OUT**

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

In this week’s conversation with Rotoworld.com NFL Draft writer Josh Norris (@JoshNorris on Twitter), we talk about Arkansas’ talent, specifically quarterback Tyler Wilson, how bad the Razorbacks offensive line has been and why Norris thinks Marcus Lattimore should enter the upcoming NFL Draft rather than try to return to college football.

Josh, this Arkansas roster has a lot more talent than four wins doesn’t it?

They do. Coming into the year, I thought one of the biggest storylines was this Arkansas team and really Tyler Wilson. You lose an offensive-minded head coach in Bobby Petrino and then also you lose three stud collegiate receivers in Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams. Those three were outstanding.

Now, Tyler Wilson this year, I still think he has all the tools. I absolutely love him. Tyler Wilson before the year was my No. 1 quarterback, senior quarterback, junior quarterback, anything. I think he gives a positive connotation of the word gunslinger because he loves the stick to the pocket, and he doesn’t mind taking a big hit because of it. This year he has probably take more big hits than he should because that Arkansas offensive line has just been abysmal. He loves to test downfield, but that’s gotten him into some bad decisions this year. Maybe that’s because of a lack of weapons, and maybe because he’s having to throw the ball a lot quicker. This year the ball seems to float a lot more, and he also took a concussion. That concussion was his second I think in the last calendar year. In the past couple weeks, I think he’s done a lot better. His footwork is great. He’s obviously comfortable from center, which is something you don’t see a lot from the college quarterbacks coming out now. A lot of people will be talking about the concussions from a pro prospective and think it’s going to hurt him a lot. I’m not saying it’s going to help him, but I disagree because you look in the past couple drafts at quarterback prospects and injury concerns haven’t mattered at all. You look at Robert Griffin III, he missed an entire season. You look at Sam Bradford, coming off of shoulder surgery. Christian Ponder has had some major shoulder issues. I think Tyler Wilson, the ability he has just to stick to the pocket and look at downfield receivers is something that I covet and that evaluators covet because now you see quarterbacks get really tentative and back away from pressure and Tyler Wilson certainly doesn’t do that.

After that, I would say their next best prospect is a running back, but it’s not Knile Davis, it’s Dennis Johnson. Dennis Johnson is a guy who was my fourth senior running back heading into the season. He’s only about 5-8, 212 pounds, but he is the best third down back in college football right now. I think he can produce in that role in the NFL immediately. He’s got the leverage for blocking and the physicalness for blocking, and he’s an excellent receiver. He’s now the starter, and he’s added that primary ball-carrying role to his arsenal. He did it last year when Davis was out, but he’s done it a lot better this year. The thing I like most about him is his short and choppy footwork. He’s not Darren Sproles because Darren Sproles is leaner and quicker, but Sproles has that same quickness, same burst because of their short strides and choppy footwork. When you look at Johnson, he’s very think and he breaks plenty of arm tackles. The biggest issue with him, and you might see South Carolina targeting it this week, is that he has a plethora of fumbles. He has bad fumbling issues. I think it’s 12 in the last two years. But I really do think Dennis Johnson is their second-best offensive weapon.

Cobi Hamilton is another one. He’s a guy that Tyler Wilson loves to stare down and maybe too much. He’s not the same receivers that Joe Adams and Jarius Wright were at all because those were quicker guys that win with separation. Cobi can go up and get the ball, he’s not afraid of contact, but he’s a much bigger target. He’s about 6-2, 210 pounds. I like him. I think he’s a third day pick. He doesn’t really flash anywhere, but he’s reliable.

Finally is Alvin Bailey, their guard. Coming into the year, a lot of people liked him. Arkansas does a weird thing for college football in that they flip sides with their offensive linemen. A lot of people liked him and he’s been pretty bad this year to be perfectly honest. That whole offensive line has been really terrible. It seems like I predict it every week, but I think the Gamecock defensive line is going to have a big day, and honestly these guys have no one on defense. I don’t think South Carolina is going to have a problem moving the ball Saturday.

Last week, we talked about Marcus Lattimore and how complicated his future was at that point. Now we are talking about a totally different thing after the Tennessee game. If he is able to play again, how will the NFL people evaluate him?

Willis McGahee is the poster child for it. After the injury didn’t Coach Spurrier get up there and say not only will Lattimore play football but that he will back to college and play again? To me that would be the wrong move.

The reasoning is, the way that contracts are shaping up for draft picks, how they are slotted and already pre-determined, there is no real benefit to coming back and trying to earn yourself a top two round draft slot. Lattimore is in a position now to play for that second contract and get healthy enough for that second contract. I really think his best option might to just go to the NFL Draft now. That’s me saying that from completely outside, but teams redshirt plenty of people, plenty of people less talented than Marcus Lattimore that were just injured, maybe not as severe an injury. Teams will (know the severity of the injury). Along with character and scheme fit, medicals are a big thing on if a kid can be drafted or not by that team or not. From my experience for one year in a draft room, there were about 10 players that were injury concerns and were undraftable because of that.

Lattimore will certainly be that for some teams, but there have been plenty of success stories. So get all the medical things he needs and then redshirt, but redshirt in the NFL because he’ll get that contract while he’s redshirting and there is no chance of being re-injured in college football, and he’ll be looking forward to that second contract when he does step foot on the field in the NFL.

So you think somebody would take a chance on him just to stash him away?

Absolutely. I mean, when you get to the sixth and seventh round, maybe 25 percent of those guys are on and NFL roster three years down the line, and I would absolutely take that shot. Even with the medicals, why not take the shot? Somebody is going to be like, ‘It’s a sixth or seventh round pick, why not?’ I’d just take the chance.

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