Edge goes to Wilson among Senior Bowl QBs


LITTLE ROCK — The long process of sorting out quarterbacks available in the NFL draft is in the public viewing stage today and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson has a built-in edge over the other five QBs at the Senior Bowl.

No. 11 for the South is Cobi Hamilton, Wilson’s pass-catching teammate at Arkansas, and, in this case, familiarity breeds confidence. Even in sandlot football, a quarterback and a slow-footed receiver who play together on Sunday develop a sense of timing. I can only imagine how well that works with a fifth-year senior and his favorite target.

At the 2012 Senior Bowl, the debate was Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. Most experts agreed they were both worth a No. 1 pick and the success of the Colts under Luck and the Redskins under Griffin says they were correct. This year, about the only thing those same experts agree upon is that none of the quarterbacks available is worth a No. 1 pick. In fact, there is some question whether any of them will be taken in the first round.

The statistical regression of USC’s Matt Barkley and Wilson are part of the puzzle. So is the mid-October to mid-November performance of West Virginia’s Geno Smith — five interceptions in five losses and a completion rate of less than 60 percent in three of those games.

Neither Barkley nor Smith is in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, where name recognition is on the side of the South with Wilson, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. On the North are Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert.

At 6-foot-4, 240, Manuel might be the best athlete of the six and the one most likely to succeed with the read option that is growing in popularity in the NFL because of the success of Griffin, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and others.

Manuel ran for more than 100 yards this year against Clemson and contributed another 103 total against Florida and Georgia Tech. Decision-making is the ultimate yardstick for an NFL quarterback, and Manuel’s decisions have been questioned because of 28 interceptions vs. 47 touchdown passes.

For a variety of reasons, Wilson’s numbers suffered this year. In 2011, he was 24-6 TDs vs. interceptions; this year, he was 21-13. Blame a home-grown athlete feeling obligated to try everything possible to rally his team from a deep deficit, suspect pass protection and a deterioration of mechanics because Bobby Petrino was not around to ride herd on him.

The stars are aligned for Wilson to shine in Mobile. In addition to the Hamilton-provided security blanket, this week is an individual showcase, his high football intellect will serve him well since defenses are not allowed to blitz, and he has had two months to correct any faults.

After citing the Senior Bowl presence of Luck, Griffin, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan in years past, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock described the current situation as wide open. People are telling him there are no first-round quarterbacks, but he thinks there could be three or four in the first round by April 25.

The people he works for are doing the telecast and he gets paid to stay on top of draft-eligible personnel, but I beg to differ on the number of quarterbacks that will go in the first round. Despite the hair, I tend to side with ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who does not include a quarterback in the first round of his initial mock draft. That could change, he said, adding, “A quarterback will rise — maybe more than one.”

Wilson is more likely than most to be the one, and his ability to articulate will stand him in good stead in the interview process. Still, I’m guessing zero quarterbacks in the first 32 picks and Wilson in the second round.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.