Wilson thinks he’s a first-rounder


FAYETTEVILLE — Tyler Wilson understands what the early evaluations and projections indicate for the NFL Draft’s 2013 quarterback class.

The group isn’t on the same level as 2012, which featured stars in rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. There are question marks about every member after enduring subpar seasons. Through it all, West Virginia’s Geno Smith, appears to be the only shoe-in to become a first-round selections in two months.

But the former Arkansas quarterback, who has worked alongside Smith at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this winter, doesn’t completely agree. The Greenwood native is confident he deserves to be part of the first-round conversation as well.

“I know what I’m capable of doing,” Wilson said Monday. “The competitor inside me knows that I’m capable of being better than those guys. So I think (being a first-round pick) is open. There’s no question. But you’ve got to go convince teams.”

Wilson — who is currently projected as a second- or third-round pick — will have a chance to change some minds beginning today, when he arrives in Indianapolis to begin his four-day stint at the NFL’s high-profile job fair.

The quarterback — who decided to return to Arkansas for his senior season in Jan. 2012 and threw for 3,387 yards and 21 touchdowns during a turmoil-filled 4-8 finish — is one of six former Arkansas players who have been invited to participate in the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Tight end Chris Gragg, offensive lineman Alvin Bailey and punter Dylan Breeding began their NFL Scouting Combine stay on Wednesday and will wrap up their week with on-the-field workouts Saturday. Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and running back Knile Davis arrive today and finish on the field Sunday.

It’s a pressure-packed interview process for the 300-plus NFL hopefuls who received invitations. Wilson — projected as a second- or third-round pick by several draft analysts — said he’s eager to begin the process.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a little chaotic,” Wilson said. “It’s designed to be that way, but I’m prepared. I imagine it’s going to be grueling and frustrating at times, but you have to manage yourself through it, do the best you can do, and hopefully at the end of the day be pleased with the outcome.”

Wilson — like the rest of the NFL Combine invitees — have spent the past two months making sure no stone is left unturned. He has been based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., working with quarterback gurus that specialize in preparing post-college athletes trying to take the next step to professional football.

One of them is former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who is the Director of the IMG Football Academy. Weinke said Wilson and other athletes training at IMG put in 12-hour days working on drills, tests and other skills needed to prepare for the NFL.

Extensive work on quarterback mechanics, of course, is a big part of the process and Wilson said he has bought into Weinke’s teachings. The quarterback in turn, has taken important steps to improve his footwork, timing, velocity and accuracy, which will be on display when he participates in passing drills Sunday.

“He’s done an unbelievable job,” said Weinke, who helped prepare NFL quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins the past two years. “He’s probably made the most improvements out of anybody that I’ve worked with in a short period of time.

“He’s throwing the ball as good as I’ve seen him throw it and I know he’s excited about the combine. He’s spinning it right now.”

Numerous quarterback prospects decline to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, waiting instead for more controlled environments during on-campus pro days to show off their skills. Wilson said his agent — Tom Condon — has typically leaned in that direction, too, for his who’s who list of quarterback clients.

But Wilson said this year is a little different with draft board positioning seemingly up for grabs. So Wilson said he’s ready to jockey for position in Indianapolis.

“I just have to show how I throw it,” Wilson said.

Weinke, who played in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, believes Wilson is prepared to put on a great performance.

“I think what they’re going to see is reassurance of his arm strength,” said Weinke, referring to what has been one common criticism of Wilson during the pre-draft process. “I think they’re going to see a lot of consistency and accuracy. And I think what they’re also going to see is great mechanics in terms of him getting back, making a good transition and delivering the ball quickly.”

There’s no guarantee four days in Indianapolis can change the perception of Wilson, or the entire quarterback class for that matter.

Trusting in a 2013 quarterback enough to make him a first-round pick has been one of the biggest topics of discussion in the pre-draft process.

“The way I categorize this group is that there is nobody — there is not even one guy you would bang the table for in the first round,” Mike Mayock, an NFL Draft analyst for the NFL Network said Monday. “But then there are a whole bunch of guys after that where you’re saying how do they sit and how much do I trust them?”

Wilson’s fine with the assessment. He understands it’s part of the process.

But Wilson’s plan is to show everyone there is elite talent in the class.

“At the end of the day there’s going to be quarterbacks taken in the first round,” Wilson said. “I’m in that kind of category. We’ll see. I have to prove it.”

2013 NFL Scouting Combine

• Where: Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis

• Who: Former UAPB offensive lineman Terron Armstead; former Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, tight end Chris Gragg, guard Alvin Bailey and punter Dylan Breeding

• TV: NFL Network; Coverage begins Saturday

• Schedule: Gragg, Bailey and Breeding arrived Wednesday and along with Armstead will wrap up their stay with position-specific workouts Saturday; Wilson, Davis and Hamilton arrive Thursday and will take part in position-specific workouts Sunday