As one of the underdogs in the rugged SEC West, Arkansas doesn’t exactly garner the same attention as Auburn or Alabama.
However, the Razorbacks did manage to win seven games in 2014, due largely in part to one of the nation’s most underrated defenses.
That defense got a lot of love in the draft, as four starters got drafted on Day 3. To top it all off, even converted quarterback A.J. Derby heard his name called before the sixth round finished.
It’s clear the Razorbacks have more talent than most people know about. And while they may not be a threat to take the SEC West title just yet, teams need to start respecting what coach Brett Bielema is doing in Fayetteville. Let’s take a look at Arkansas’ 2015 draft class.
Trey Flowers, DE, New England Patriots (4th round, 101st overall)
Viewed as a possible Day 2 selection, Flowers was still on the board when Day 3 began. It didn’t take long for a team to pounce on the highly productive defensive end out of Arkansas, as the Patriots took him with the second pick of the fourth round.
Despite lacking elite burst and bend, Flowers projects as a quality edge defender due to his strength and length. The 6’2”, 266-pounder can lock out offensive tackles with his 34 ¼” arms and big 10” hands. His relentless motor and sound technique should make him a load to handle, especially in the running game. It wouldn’t be surprising if Flowers replaces Rob Ninkovich in a year or two.
Exactly 40 picks later, another member of the Razorbacks’ vaunted defense went off the board. Like Flowers, linebacker Martrell Spaight’s testing numbers aren’t overly impressive, but he enters the league as one of the most productive linebackers in the SEC.
The former two-time JUCO All-American capped off his final season at Arkansas by earning first-team All-SEC honors after leading the conference with 128 tackles. A downhill thumper, Spaight projects as a two-down inside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 scheme. Considering returning starters Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley ranked 44th and 48th among 60 inside linebackers, Spaight represents a big upgrade.
Tevin Mitchel, CB, Washington Redskins (6th round, 182nd overall)
Notice a theme here? The Redskins dipped back into the Razorbacks defensive pool and selected cornerback Tevin Mitchel in the sixth round. Unlike his two teammates drafted earlier, Mitchel got drafted more on potential than past production. In fact, the 6’0”, 190-pound corner started just five games as a senior and missed a ton of time due to injuries.
One of the reasons Mitchel earned a draft spot was his outstanding pro day performance. He turned in a solid 4.45 40-yard dash before posting a 36” vertical, 10’4” broad jump and 6.86 three-cone time. On paper, Mitchel has the size and athletic ability to be a decent NFL corner, but he’ll have to overcome his durability and technique issues to earn reps as a rookie.
Darius Philon, DT, San Diego Chargers (6th round, 192nd overall)
One of the more overlooked players in the draft, Darius Philon could prove to be a major steal. Undersized by NFL standards, the 6’1”, 298-pounder strangely entered the draft with two years of eligibility remaining. The gamble didn’t exactly pay off, as he fell all the way to the end of the sixth round.
However, Philon did benefit by going to a team that could utilize his interior pass-rush ability. San Diego already has a solid defensive penetrator in Corey Liuget, but Philon could be his long-term sidekick. While Philon might have fit better as a one-gap penetrator in a 4-3 scheme, it’ll be interesting to see how the Chargers utilize the gifted young defender.
A.J. Derby, TE, New England Patriots (6th round, 202nd overall)
Even with his limited experience at tight end, A.J. Derby still found a way to sneak into the penultimate round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Of course, the hybrid athlete landed in New England, where he’ll learn the nuances of the position from Rob Gronkowski. And considering his combination of size (6’4”, 255) and speed (4.72), there’s some hope that Derby could develop into Baby Gronk.
That will take some time (and a lot of luck), but the Patriots took a flyer on a talented athlete who flashed big-time ability in his lone season at tight end. Derby is actually a former quarterback, so he’s just scratching the surface of his potential as a skill player. He’ll start his career fighting for a roster spot behind the likes of Scott Chandler, Tim Wright, Michael Hoomanawanui and Fred Davis, but don’t be surprised if the Patriots cut at least one or two of those veterans in order to stash Derby.