Razorbacks in the National Football League
In the past few years, it is safe to say that the on-the-field reputation of the Arkansas Razorbacks is the highest it has ever been. After finishing last season No. 5 in the AP top 25 poll with an 11-2 season, Arkansas had four players drafted in April’s NFL draft.
2008 Draft Class
In terms of star status, Darren McFadden has been the most highly touted player drafted from Arkansas, going fourth overall in the 2008 draft to the Oakland Raiders. McFadden hasn’t quite seen the success many expected because of multiple injuries in his short career, missing 19 games in his first four years in the NFL. He flashed signs of his great potential in 2011, leading the NFL in rushing with 610 yards through the first six games before being lost for the season with an injury. Expectations are higher in 2012 for McFadden than they have been for any other former Razorback.
Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis were also part of the dominating backfield Arkansas fielded with McFadden in 2007, and were drafted by the Cowboys and Broncos in 2008, respectively. Jones is a scat back and kick returner who has seen numerous big plays in Dallas, rushing for 2,326 yards in his first four years with the Cowboys. However, like McFadden, he has struggled with staying healthy and being a reliable every-down option.
Hillis was originally drafted as a fullback but has since become one of the more punishing running backs in the NFL. He rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 for the Cleveland Browns, earning him the cover of the video game Madden 12. While the “Madden curse” may have been to blame for only 587 rushing yards in 2011, Hillis is looking to revitalize his career with the Kansas City Chiefs as a short yardage back.
2010 Draft Class
Offensive guard Mitch Petrus was drafted by the New York Giants in the fifth round in 2010 and won his first Super Bowl ring with the Giants last year.
2011 Draft Class
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick picked quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round of the 2011 draft. Mallett is learning the NFL reins behind Tom Brady, a position that would be beneficial to any young quarterback.
Tight end DJ Williams was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round in the same year as Mallett. Together they were the most decorated tight end-quarterback combination in Arkansas history. Williams, the 2010 John Mackey Award recipient for best tight end in the country, is on a roster loaded with skilled players that is led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
2012 Draft Class
The trio of wide receivers drafted in 2012, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, are arguably the most decorated wideouts in Arkansas history.
As one of the more electrifying players in this year’s draft, Adams has instantly made a difference in the punt return game for the Carolina Panthers. In his first preseason game Aug. 12, Adams returned his first punt 39 yards, and gained the praise of Cam Newton in the process.
Wright and Childs were drafted 16 spots apart in the fourth round, both to the Minnesota Vikings. Wright has impressed as a punt returner and slot receiver, but Childs has had an unfortunate turn of fate. He landed awkwardly after leaping for a pass in training camp and ruptured his patellar tendons in both knees. He has been placed on injury waivers by the Vikings.
Defensive end Jake Bequette was selected by the New England Patriots in the third round and has emerged as a sack specialist that can line up in multiple positions on defense.
Jason Peters, who was an All-SEC tight end at Arkansas, was signed by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2004. He has since blossomed into an all-pro left tackle protecting Michael Vick’s blind side for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Aside from the highly drafted former Razorbacks, there are other players from Arkansas who are still fighting for an NFL roster spot. Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas, Jerico Nelson and Gregory Gatson were all stars from last year’s defensive unit who went undrafted in 2012, but have a good shot at making their respective squads.
Franklin, last season’s leading tackler, has seen repetitions at linebacker with the second team in preseason games for the Denver Broncos. Thomas was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were impressed by his five interceptions with the Razorbacks in 2011. The interception is a statistic that always translates well to the NFL.
Nelson is a safety for the New Orleans Saints and Gatson a cornerback for the San Diego Chargers. Both are participating well in training camp for their teams and could make their respective rosters.
Arkansas will only see more and more players on NFL rosters in the upcoming years, and that pattern starts on the recruiting trail. As Arkansas pulls more big name recruits, fans can expect to see them four years later in the NFL. It appears this year’s Razorbacks may continue that trend, especially with Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis being added to award watch lists.